In the face of the current economic slowdown, economists, politicians, common people are asking each other as to what led us into this situation and what can lead us out of it. It is however clear that policies made during this time are crucial to the economic health of the country. Another question which emerges is what constitutes this health? What factors decide the fate of a nation? In a country like India, one of the key factors is certainly, the rural economy. In India, the rural-urban divide is quite prevalent that is widely due to huge differences in employment opportunities, wages, standard of living. Therefore it is imperative to formulate new policies and revamp the existing ones which hold potential for betterment. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is one such scheme. The MGNREGA was initially rolled out to provide 100 days of guaranteed employment for people in need of work which makes it demand-driven. However, it is not just an employment providing scheme, it has also proved to be a source of empowerment among the women, SCs, STs. Therefore, it is important to harness the potential of the scheme by revamping it, making a road-map for its realisation keeping in mind the current economic scenario of the country.
The world is experiencing an economic slowdown due to a variety of factors in MGNREGA.
India is also witnessing slow growth and a period of economic distress. Ours is a country which is developing and has come a long way since independence to reach this platform and it is a fact that its economy and politics is very much shaped by the rural life and rural opinion. Some of the basic things that need to be achieved to boost rural development are- eradication of poverty, female empowerment, need to improve credit availability, and much more. It seems like MGNREGA provides a viable solution to some of these problems and can be extended to cover many more. However it requires certain corrections and reforms. One of the main issues with this scheme is of improper payment of wages. Wages that are paid are either very less or are not paid on time. Since, a worker could not get the required money on time, she can fall into the vicious debt trap from which she intended to come out by taking up the job in the first place. Secondly, wages must be increased to a reasonable amount so that the very purpose of using the money can be achieved. Government must increase the budget allocation to MGNREGA to atleast ₹88,000 crores as has been found out by researchers and scholars for the proper functioning of the scheme.
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Also, the administrative part must be up to date and take up the responsibility that the scheme reaches even the remotest of regions. This will help in checking the distress migration that is due to lack of employment in the native place. One such measure has been recently taken by Odisha government wherein they have assured the people to provide 200 days of assured employment at wages greater than the national MGNREGA average wage by setting up certain funds for the same. This would also require proper decentralization, where local panchayats are involved actively in listing out work that needs to be done. This way, rural infrastructure development would also take place. Further, the administration must also be responsible for making people aware about such schemes and also encourage them to work and to not leave the work mid-way.
The MGNREGA has already proven to be able to involve large numbers of rural women to work and earn. The involvement of self-help groups has also been a thing in the right direction. Such measures are well-spirited and must be encouraged further by making them more responsible for the implementation and management of the scheme. Most of the rural women work in their own fields, MGNREGA has provided a way to get paid for that work. Earning money has provided a sense of economic freedom to the women. But a lot of hard work needs to be done in the rest of the country, especially in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, etc. A lot of women still live veiled lives of exploitation because they depend fully on the male counterparts economically.
One of the main reasons for the current economic slowdown in India is the fall in customer demand. Demand rises when people are willing to spend money on goods and services, but due to lack of economic resources and employment, demand falls. Since rural society constitutes more than half of the country’s population, it is important to involve them actively in shaping the economics and raise their ability to be able to buy goods and avail services. Yes, it is not right to say that a scheme like MGNREGA will solve the employment problem, but it can get the crowd to work and hopefully change their behaviour towards working. This can be achieved by some supplements to the existing scheme. Training for select activities, vocational courses, etc. can be included into the scheme. This will not only help in developing the skill of people but it will help in shifting towards secondary and tertiary sectors as well while reducing dependence on agriculture. And, when seen on the wider angle such measures will eventually, with honest inputs, can create golden outputs for India’s future, a country which is home to the largest number of youngsters.
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