Rural Bihar inching towards universal enrolment under MGNREGA

Tina Edwin New Delhi | Updated on March 18, 2020 Published on March 18, 2020

Households wanting unskilled work to tide over tough conditions are typically expected to register under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), but rural Bihar looks set to defy this logic. Prima facie reading of data published by the Union Ministry of Rural Development suggest that rural Bihar is inching towards universal registration.

Data updated until March 17 show that 180.4 lakh rural households in Bihar had registered under the MGNREGS but only a fraction had demanded work. That might be about 90 per cent of the total number of households in rural Bihar. Accurate estimates of the total number of households will be known only when the Census exercise is carried out. Available data show that there were 168.3 lakh households in rural Bihar in 2011 and if that number has increased by, say, 15 per cent since then, the number of rural households in the state will be about 194 lakh households.

Of the registered households, over 90 per cent held job cards, and just about 25 per cent of those who held job cards had demanded work in the current year. Equally significant is that less than 1 per cent of those provided employment had completed 100 days of work. The MGNREG Act obligates state governments to provide up to 100 days of work to a household should they seek employment.

Also noteworthy is that Bihar accounts for the highest number of rural households registered under the scheme currently, outnumbering Uttar Pradesh by more than six lakh households. However, the number of rural households from Bihar with an MGNREGS job card is slightly lower than that of Uttar Pradesh. About 163.9 lakh households from rural Bihar held job cards compared to 165.5 lakh rural households from Uttar Pradesh. That too might change in the next financial year if Bihar continues to maintain the accelerated trend of issuing job cards. Since 2016-17, Bihar had issued almost 47 lakh job cards, or 11.7 lakh on an average a year compared to a little under 32 lakh issued by Uttar Pradesh (7.9 lakh a year) during the same period.

Activists and researchers monitoring the implementation of the MNREGS say that the numbers may be inflated as many households would have registered more than once – some of the duplicate registration can be attributed to errors and inaccuracies in the initial registration. Often households and officials prefer re-registering rather than correcting the inaccuracies, as it is simpler, even though that results in double-counting of some households.

The state administration was also seen to be aggressively enrolling households over the years. That too would be responsible for the state getting to the level of close to universal registration of rural households.

Ashish Ranjan of Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan, a trade union for unorganised workers in northern Bihar, attributes the convergence of many schemes with the MGNREGS as an important factor for expansion of enrolment. These are schemes that provide financial assistance to create assets for the use of individual households rather than the community, such as infrastructure for livestock including cattle and poultry, farm infrastructure for irrigation such as ponds and water harvesting structures, and infrastructure for promoting fisheries.

The inclusion of construction of a house under the Indira Awas Yojana (now renamed Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana - Gramin) in MGNREGS too provided an incentive for people to enrol under the employment guarantee scheme, Ranjan explained. While the construction cost of the house with a toilet is provided for under the Awas Yojana, the wage component for unskilled labour is provided from the MGNREGS funds. The Ministry for Rural Development has fixed the wage component at 90-95 person-days for construction of such houses of at least 25 square metres, and the construction cost at ₹1.2-1.3 lakh.

Published on March 18, 2020
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