Bihar relying on MGNREGS to employ migrants returning from big cities
Bihar government has directed that all migrant workers returning to the state amid the second wave of Covid-19 infections are given job passes and work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) among other central schemes, said officials.
C P Khanduja, director and commissioner, MGNREGA, said the rural development department has already received approval for creating 20 crore man-days of work under the scheme for the new fiscal year and plan to raise it to 30 crore man-days anticipating higher work demand due to the influx of migrants. Respective district magistrates (DMs) have been given the responsibility to gainfully employ the returnees, said the official.
MGNREGA guarantees a minimum 100 days of unskilled work to rural households at wages fixed by the Centre. The central scheme was extensively used last year to provide temporary jobs to many of the roughly 2.5 million migrants who returned home during the Covid-induced lockdown last year. Bihar, home to one of the largest migrant workforce, is again relying on the scheme to engage migrants returning from industrialised states such as Delhi, Maharashtra and Haryana during the ongoing second wave of the virus.
Khanduja said funds were not a problem now since the Central government was expected to release ₹1,000 crore as wage instalment for 5 crore man-days in the first quarter. A MGNREGA man-day refers to a day of work provided to a beneficiary under the scheme.
In generating man-days, Bihar was much behind fellow states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Rajasthan with huge migrant populations.
In the last fiscal Bihar created 22 crore man-days; whereas UP created 39 crore, Bengal 41 crore and Rajasthan 45 crore.
“We performed as per our target,” Khanduja said, adding there were issues regarding delayed fund flows from the Centre in January and February this year. “The state’s government initially targeted 18 crore man-days in the last fiscal, which was revised to 20 crore man-days. In February, it was revised to 22 crore,” he said.
Khanduja said Bihar created 7 crore man-days in May and June last year, which was a record of sorts. “It shows there was high job creation when migrants were returning home after the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed,” he said.
The opposition however pointed out that a very few migrant workers got 100 man-days of work under the scheme even last year. State Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) president and former minister Jagdanand Singh said the scheme failed to meet the job demand of the migrants due to “flawed implementation” and alleged “discrepancies” at the block and panchayat levels.
“...The government is not able to provide 100 days of work to even 10% of job card holders as against the number of those registered because there are a lot of gaps in the system of work demand by labourers. There is no transparency,” he said.
The MGNREGA commissioner said low wages under the scheme in comparison to the wages offered by the state government was a big reason for lesser job demand. As against ₹198 per man-day under the scheme, unskilled labourers were paid ₹304/day by the state, as per the revision effective from April 1, 2021.
Singh doesn’t agree fully, he says a lot needs to be fixed in the implementation of the scheme before raising the wage question.
“Government should first tell whether the panchayat bhawans maintain registers detailing how many people sought jobs? ... Besides, why does the government not publicise the projects to be undertaken at the local level to attract workers? Has the state taken up the issue of low wage rate under MGNREGS with the Central government despite Bihar’s rate being much lower than many other states?,” Singh questioned.
Education minister Vijay Kumar Chaudhary, when asked about the state’s lower rating in terms of man-days, said, “There has been a quantum jump in job card holders and work has been given as per demand.”
Professor Nawal Kishore Choudhary, noted economist and former principal of Patna College, said the man-days generated by Bihar last fiscal shows the government has lagged behind in giving jobs under the MGNREGS.
“Bihar is largely a migrant state and creating only 22 crore man-days of work was a poor show in the face of huge inflow of migrants,” he said. He also pointed out that dependence on MGNREGS is flawed since the job guarantee scheme was meant for unskilled workers, whereas many returning migrants were skilled and semi-skilled workers.
‘Government had carried a skill mapping but no white paper was issued on how many jobs have been created and employment provided to semi-skilled and skilled workers in the last one year. The migrant problem is persisting because semi-skilled and skilled workers are not getting matching jobs and the MGNREGS is unable to fully absorb the unskilled workers,” he said.