'Don't blame farm hand shortage on NREGA'
The Union Rural Development Ministry stresses that the farm labour shortage should not be blamed entirely on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) as there are other factors driving away labour to other fields even before the Act was implemented in 2006.
"Data from financial year 2010-11 suggests that 70 per cent of the work in the scheme have been generated during the agriculture lean season," says the ministry, quoting a study that found high non-farm wages having a more significant role i the diversion from agriculture than MGNREGA.
A study found that more lucrative non-farm wages have had a more significant role in the diversion of farm labour than MGNREGA. It noted that the provision of food security through the Public Distribution System (PDS) has also contributed to the economic scarcity of labour.
It points out that the macro-analysis of data in the drought-prone states like Karnataka and Rajasthan as well as in the irrigation dominated state like Andhra Pradesh showed that the impact of MGNREGA wages on the economic scarcity of labour is more prevalent in Karnataka and Rajasthan, though relatively modest compared with the impact of hike in non-farm wages.
In an anthology of research to be released by the prime minister on Saturday, the ministry says the MGNREGA has rather given the bargaining power to the rural labour working all these decades with suppressed wages. For instance, land owners used to lock-in or tie up labourers at a pre-determined rate for agricultural seasons to minimise production costs. But it is no longer so.
The ministry points out that explicit and implicit objectives of the government's flagship programme is to target the labourers that are either involuntarily unemployed in the agricultural lean season or those that are desperate to escape the vicious cycle of poverty and debt. "Thus, in places where there is a diversion of labour to MGNREGA, the situation may just be indicative of an active and preferential choice made by workers."
On the demand to suspend all MGNREGA works during the peak agriculture seasons, the ministry says it would be unfair to the surplus labour that may not find employment even during such time or where the people prefer to work under the scheme that gives them regular wages instead of remaining tied to the debt-bondage and the labour contractors.
Yes, the ministry says the programme definitely had a more direct and positive impact on reducing the distress migration by providing work closer to home with decent working conditions. A study in Anantpur, Andhra Pradesh, observed that the scheme brought down the migration levels from 27 per cent to 7 per cent in the sample villages due to availability of work. In another case study in Bastar notes that the number of people migrating in one block from 4500 to 500 as a result of employment available close to home under the scheme. The same was found true in a survey of 240 households in Sidhi districts of Madhya Pradesh that the migration reduced by 60 per cent.
The compilation also documents how large number of people from western Odisha used mortgage or sell their little land and migrate out along with their families to far off places like the brick kilns of Andhra Pradesh and the carpet industry of Vishakhapatnam because the recurring drought back home diminised job opportunities in the agriculture sector. Such distress migration came down to 45 per cent in 2009-10.
For instance, Ucchab Kumar's family has been migrating out of their village Juba in Bolangir due to distress for the past three generation to work in Andhra's brick kilns, but no longer after a farm pond was constructed on his land under MGNREGA. The pond not only protects the main paddy crop on his own 2.5 acres but also provides irrigation to 5.5 acres of adjacent farm land.
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