This summer, about 400 men and women, belonging to the Warli tribe from the tiny Dongarshet hamlet in remote Peth taluka of Maharashtra’s Nashik district will not have to migrate in search of livelihood and water. Last year, the people demanded, and received, work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). They cleared sediment in the village water reservoir. About 61 people worked for almost five weeks for which they received ₹206 daily in wages.
This monsoon, the reservoir was full of water, water level in the village well improved and a hand pump delivers ample water now. For the people, the government scheme has provided wages and water. They are happy to work under MGNREGS as they could stay with their families and cattle instead of wandering for work in Nashik and other cities.
It’s a different story with Shantaram Choudhary. In the scorching noon heat the 61-year-old is treading muddy slopes in his Sadakwadi hamlet in Mokhada taluka of Palghar district. “This used to be a water reservoir ( see pic ). Water was stored with the help of a bund. But reservoir sedimentation has left no scope for water storage. Last month we have worked here almost for two weeks under the government scheme, MGNREGS. But now the work is halted. We are waiting for the approval to carry out the remaining work,” says a gasping Shantaram clearing sweat on his ragged face.
Surrounded by mountains, Sadakwadi receives massive rainfall but struggles to get drinking water during summer. “All the water flows down the hill and we have nothing to stop it. Once we clear sediment in this reservoir, we will be able to save water,” says young Ramesh Barap who was one of the villagers engaged in clearing sediment.
This hamlet with 500 people migrates to Shahapur, Thane and Mumbai during summer as farming activity halts. Most of them work at construction sites. “Farming is dependent on rain. We could do many things if we have water storage. Why would I leave my village if I have sufficient work and water in my field?” asks Shantaram. The sediment clearance work is halted, but the work to construct a cement concrete road by the panchayat in the village is speeded up.
“It is tender work,” says one of the villagers adding that any tender work that involves contractors and tendering gets clearance immediately but hardly anyone in the administration is interested in MGNREGS work, they say. The reason? The tender involves ‘cuts’, but there is no such scope in MGNREGS and officials look at it as “unnecessary” extra work.
Sadakwadi villagers hope that the remaining work to clean sediment will get approval before the monsoon. Some of the fear that the babus will clear the approval only in June when the monsoon starts and people get busy in sowing activity. “And then the offcials prepare reports saying people are not available for MGNREGS works and people don’t need work,” allege the villagers.
Ashwini Kulkarni of Pragati Abhiyan, the organisation working to facilitate MGNREGS works in villages, says the requirement of work is five times more compared to the works which are being approved. Maharashtra lags in preparing the action plan (shelf of work), says Kulkarni.
How does it all work?
Villagers identify works and then take it to gram sabha. Gram sabha approves it and sends the works plan to the panchayat samiti. The panchayat samiti forwards the works plan to government departments concerned. The department officials visit the spot to prepare a draft for the works and send it to the block development officer who approves the estimates. The approved works are sent back to the panchayat for execution. This is how a ‘shelf of works’ is created.
Generally in June or July government agencies have to visit villages to identify works, decide the location and prepare design with financial estimates. The proposal then goes to the BDO.
“This shelf of work is not ready almost in all parts of Maharashtra. So, when there is the demand for work the administration is in a hurry to identify works and then there is a complete mess,” she says.
The mandate of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (Mahatma Gandhi NREGA), 2005, is to provide at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every rural household whose adult member volunteers to do unskilled manual work. However, just about 50 days of houshold employment are actually created.
Kulkarni added that there is a need for better coordination in different agencies of the government. “ People are waiting for work. There is a need for work and the government has to address the issue of the absence of a shelf of work. If MGNREGS is implemented successfully, other government programmes will automatically be successful. If people stay in the village to work, their kids will go to school, vaccination programmes will succeed, ration food grain will reach the targeted group” she insists.
In many villages, local politicians are unhappy with the scheme as they fear that people would become “independent” and would not “value” them. Activists working to help Adivasis to get MGNREGS works say that many times politicians create hurdles at all levels because they want to get credit for all works. If people start getting work and wages without the recommendation of a politician, the political structure of the village would collapse. Dependence of people on a politician for everything is key in politics say activists.
Minister of Rural Development Narendra Singh Tomar in December 2019 said that the Centre was actively engaged with the States in establishing systems that ensure the provision of work as per demand.
He added that the Centre has requested States to initiate appropriate Information Education and Communication (IEC) campaigns for the dissemination of the provisions of the Act. The States have been asked to expand scope and coverage of the demand registration system. The Centre has insisted on preparing plans in a participatory mode and get them approved in the Gram Sabha.
But in Aswali Harsh village in Trimbakeshwar taluka villagers are waiting for MGNREGS work. Almost all of the villagers here are dependent on daily wages.“There is not much work available here. If MGNREGS work is provided for 100 days we will be able to survive. We need work,” says Raju Lachke.
Villagers here complain that the engineers who measure the quantity of work done are indifferent towards their work and workers have to suffer because payment is issued based on the work done. Villagers have received work for about two weeks – that is 14-day work this year.
It’s late noon and Raju and Balu Lachke continue to wait at a small tin shed shop on the main village road. They have identified many works in the village including water conservation works. They are sitting here for almost all the day waiting for news of babus approving the work.