General Awareness Topic - MNREGA and Agriculture

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Published : Friday, 01 August, 2014 11:57 AM  
 
MBA aspirants must be updated with General Awareness on current topics. General awareness topics with analytically drawn conclusions will benefit you in Essay writing  / GD & PI. Today, you will read General Awareness Topic: MNREGA and Agriculture !
 
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) was one of the flagship programme of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2004-09 (UPA-1). It aims to provide livelihood security to the people of rural India by providing 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a year to a rural household whose adult members are willing to do unskilled manual work. 
 
In 2014-15, MNREGA has provided employment in 778,134 villages across 645 districts of India. The scheme was successful and was believed to be major factor behind the win of UPA in general elections of 2009. However, gradually, the adverse impact of MNREGA becomes visible on the rural economy. In fact many critics of MNREGA attribute the increase in food inflation to the scheme itself.
 
In Indian agriculture, majority of farmers are small and marginal farmers who don’t have large fields and can’t employ modern agriculture machinery in their fields. They have to depend on the unskilled labour for sowing, harvesting and other purposes. A guaranteed wage employment in rural areas shifted a substantial labour from agriculture sector to MNREGA schemes creating labour scarcity. Farmers had to pay increased wages to the agriculture labour increasing the cost of agriculture produce and ultimately the price of agriculture produce.
 
In agriculture sector, demand of labour is seasonal, rising particularly during the sowing and harvesting season only. For rest of the period there is a slump in labour demand and for that period, MNREGA provided livelihood security to the rural labour. In this way, MNREGA proved to be a boon for agriculture labour during the lean season of agriculture. 
 
However, since MNREGA as a scheme is valid for all the year round, it created scarcity of labour during harvesting and sowing season.  Moreover, MNREGA created a base wages in every state and the wages provided under MNREGA became the effective minimum wage in every state, further increasing the cost of agriculture production.  
 
All these factors led to the then Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar suggesting scrapping of MNREGA in agriculture season. Alternatively, he recommended a 50 percent subsidy to farmers in wage costs due to increase in real (inflation-adjusted) agricultural wages, linking the increase in wages to MNREGA. But as the scheme was a flagship programme of UPA government, it didn’t want to mess with it. Later, corruption also made inroads into the scheme. During social audits, fake job cards and muster rolls were found in several Panchayats.
 
The scheme was found to be not only riddled with corruption and inefficiency; it also failed in its objective of creating durable assets. In several cases, MNREGA didn’t create any rural infrastructure; but became a too to appropriate funds. Work undertaken under the scheme was like first digging a pit and then filling it. The unplanned and haphazard work has other fallouts as well; for example, the deadly landslide of Pune which had already killed 41 people and around 120 people are still feared trapped in the debris is blamed on careless work under MNREGA. 
 
Sahas Manch, a local NGO, has blamed carelessness of government officials in measuring and levelling land for the Padkai scheme. The scheme is implemented under MNREGA. Under the scheme, hill slopes were flattened and trees were cut down to develop cultivable plots which loosened the soil triggering landslide.
 
After the general elections in 2014, there were murmurs that new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government may scrap the scheme. However, as it would have given wrong signals to the rural population, the new government instead of scrapping the scheme, decided to bring some changes. Narendra Modi-led central government has decided to bring 60 percent of MNREGA work under agriculture. This proposal will be included as mandatory clause in MNREGA. According to the plan, the minimum 60 percent of work in a district will help in creation of assets in farm sector. This creation will be in the form of development of land, water and trees.
 
When the 60 percent of work done under MNREGA will be devoted to the creation of assets in farm sector, it will increase the productivity of agriculture. An increase in agriculture productivity will compensate the increased cost of production due to wage hike.
 
UPA government’s failure in curbing corruption was supposed to be the major reason behind drubbing of UPA in latest general election. As the many inefficiencies and corruption has plagued the scheme, linking 60 percent of work under MNREGA to agriculture is seen as the first step towards reforming the scheme. 
 
In future, labour employed in agricultural fields can also be linked to MNREGA where during the scarcity of labour, a farmer could employ labour from MNREGA during harvesting and sowing season. Since the agriculture is the soul of rural economy, any rural development or employment scheme cannot succeed without taking agriculture into account.
 
 
 
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