3 states ask Centre to allow machines for NREGS work
Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka have written to Centre seeking a relaxation of the rule restricting employment to manual labour because large parts of these 3 states have rocky terrain.Updated: Oct 30, 2019, 05:20 IST
At least three states have asked the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government to allow the use of machines in work done under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), which is restricted to manual labour, officials aware of the matter said
Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka want the central government to allow the use of machines for executing projects in difficult terrain -- a proposal that, if accepted, could mark the first relaxation of rules in the flagship job guarantee scheme.
MGNREGS is aimed at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka have written to the Centre seeking a relaxation of the rule restricting employment to manual labour because large parts of the three states have rocky terrain that makes it difficult for MNGREGS beneficiaries to dig ponds or undertake construction work.
“The states feel that a limited exemption of use of heavy machines or bulldozers in such difficult terrain can actually help the scheme and also meet construction targets,” an official said on condition of anonymity.
MGNREGS, launched in 2006, banned the use of machines in works executed under scheme because it would erode employment and defeat the purpose of the programme.
”Earlier, during the beginning of the scheme..,there had been instances about use of machines in parts of Bihar but over the years, all such activities had been stopped thereafter,” said a senior official of the rural development ministrycited above.
The fresh requests by the three states have sparked a new debate among officials in the ministrywhich oversees MGNREGS. If the terrain makes manual labour difficult ,why can’t machines be used for basic construction work like digging and removing heavy stones? The rural development ministry hasn’t made up its mind yet on this issue “but we are certainly looking into the proposals,” said a second official.
According to the ministry, if the proposal is accepted, the bill might not be amended in Parliament but some of the rules can be changed through executive orders.
For the current year, the MGNREGS has an approved labour budget to generate 258 crore persondays of employment under the scheme, the highest in five years. The scheme has an approved budget of Rs 60,000 crore but may get additional funds in the upcoming supplementary demand for grants. The scheme has 12.9 crore active workers and 56% of the work is done by women.
Some states have also added that as more and more women are joining the scheme, machines can act as a supplement to their work, especially when it come to heavy lifting or undertaking projects in rocky areas. All the three states, incidentally, have a high rate of women MGNREGS workers. In Madhya Pradesh, 40% of the workforce consists of women while in Andhra Pradesh, 60% of workers are women. The MGNREGS, law stipulates that half of the employment generated by the scheme must go to women.
But the ministry is taking a cautious approach while evaluating the possibilities. “Assisting women in work and executing projects in difficult terrains should not become an excuse for contractors and the states to use machines elsewhere. Once we allow machines, there is a possibility of its misuse as it would be beneficial for contractors and unscrupulous agents,” saidthe second official.
Economist Prosenjit Bose described the issue as “a complex debate”. “If you allow machines, then there is every possibility that private contractors will exploit the situation. But it is also true that the blanket restrictions have been imposed in MGNREGS not keeping in mind the wide variations in local conditions of different states of India. It’s true that some states have very difficult terrains for manual labour. So, I think some flexibility in rules are needed but the Centre must also involve the states,” he said.