June 27, 2021

Caste Division in MGNREGS a Recipe for Disaster

B Venkat

THE union rural development ministry has asked states for data on caste basis in the works of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). The ministry stated that the details of workers belonging to Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) sections should be mentioned separately. Since the inception of the scheme in 2006, there was no such circular from the central government to the states. For the first time employment under the scheme is being sought to be divided on caste lines, which reveals the real agenda of the BJP government. Even though the data is being solicited in the guise of helping SC/ST sections, we must understand the sinister design is to weaken the employment guarantee scheme in order to subjugate the interests of dalits and tribals.

This Act contains some uncompromising sections in it. The Act mentioned that every adult of this country who seeks work should be provided 100 days of minimum employment in a year without bothering about their religion and caste. In case the works are not given, unemployment stipend is to be given to them. The provision of unemployment stipend, which is unprecedented, finds mention in this Act. This Act abolished contractors and use of machines too. All amenities should be provided for workers in the work place itself. Child care centres are also should be established. Payment of wages should be made on weekly basis. The main motto of this Act is to provide employment only. The Act was enacted to alleviate rural distress.

Out of 29.42 crore employment workers, governments’ are providing work to 14.31 crores only. Except Kerala, all other states are not providing works to job card holders. In the last two to three years, lakhs of workers have applied for works in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, but to no avail. Intervention of courts too has not made much difference. Despite all these limitations, 389.32 crore man-days of work have been provided under MGNREGA in the FY 2020-21. Braving the coronavirus pandemic, workers have undertaken works. When all other sectors are showing negative growth due to the pandemic, agriculture sector has registered four per cent growth due to the employment works undertaken in the field. Instead of further strengthening this scheme, the BJP government through its advisory is trying to negate all the gains made so far.

The BJP government has started a false campaign that the collection of data with regard to SCs, STs in employment works is to further release the funds through sub-plan to the advancement of these sections. In the man-days provided under MGNREGA last year, 19.86 per cent SCs and 17.9 per cent STs have benefitted. In sum, SC and ST sections collectively got 140 crore man days, i.e., 37.76 per cent. In our country, the population of SC, ST account for 24.4 percent, while their participation is 13 per cent more than their population. In villages, works under MGNREGA is the lifeline for dalits and tribals. In the budget, allocations are made to sub-plan as per the ratio of their population. In case funds under sub-plan are to be routed to MGNREGA works, only up to 24.4 percent is to be allocated as per basis of population. Then where will be the funds for the remaining 13 per cent man-days come from?

In many states, dalits and tribals are doing 40-60 percent works. In Punjab, 60 per cent works are being done by dalits alone. In Punjab, the percentage of dalits in the state population is 30 per cent only. In this scenario, what about the wages for remaining 30 per cent dalits? In the works under MGNREGA, share of SC and ST in Andhra Pradesh if 33.38 per cent, 28.5 per cent in UP, 40 per cent in Telangana. Hence, it is clear that caste division in employment works is aimed at weakening the scheme itself. This is the blatant agenda of the BJP government. In fact, sub-plan is aimed at enhancing the opportunities for SC, ST, apart from the regular schemes. But PM Narendra Modi has decided to undermine both employment guarantee scheme and sub-plan simultaneously.

Soon after coming to power, the Modi government has been contemplating all steps to weaken MGNREGA. The UPA-I government had allocated four per cent funds in the union budget, but the BJP reduced it to two per cent. Had there been four percent allocations in the union budget for MGNREGA works as in the past, allocations should have been Rs 1,44,000 crore, whereas the Modi government had allocated Rs 71,000 crore.

Since 2014, the BJP government has been resorting to huge reduction in allocations, by almost half. As there is a huge reduction in allocations, state governments are also providing jobs to only half of the job card holders. Earlier there used to be a cap on spending for material in the works under NREGA up to 10 per cent, now the BJP government had allowed spending up to 40 per cent on material. This had resulted in utilisation of more machinery through contractors.

In the past, SC/STs, as part of NREGA were allowed by governments to work in their own lands. This enabled them to make their lands useful for agricultural usage. But the BJP government shelved the land development plan. Many state governments have stooped to the level of utilising these works for the construction of helipads, parks, instead of utilising the same for the utility of people. The BJP government is making all-out efforts to dilute the spirit of the NREGA.

Kerala and Tripura under the Left were in the forefront in providing works under the scheme. All states whether ruled by the BJP or the Congress are taking steps to dilute the scheme. AP earlier used to be in the top in providing work under the scheme, but nowadays its performance has faltered. Last year AP provided 25.93 crore man-days, Telangaana provided 15.79 crore. BJP-ruled states are least bothered about this scheme. In Uttar Pradesh which is having 20 crore population, only 2.21 crore job cards have been issued and 3.12 crore were enrolled as workers. AP and Telangana provided 41 crore man-days last year, whereas UP provided 39.47 crore. There are 3.5 crore dalits in UP. In villages, 65 percent of dalits are not getting job cards. In AP and Telangana, which have less than half the population of UP, there are three crore workers. In rural areas of Kerala, every family, every adult got job cards. During the Left Front government in Tripura, 70 per cent people got job cards and 100 man-days employment was provided to dalits and tribals.

If the revised guidelines under the advisory brought out by central government are implemented in toto, dalits and tribals are going to be the most affected. In the guise of release of funds under sub-plan, works to dalit-tribals will be reduced by half resulting in enslavement of these sections to the landlords, as in the past. Even OBCs are going to be deprived. As of now OBCs are undertaking 35 to 40 per cent works throughout the country. Attempts will be made to reduce their participation in future. Caste feelings will be aroused at all workplaces, by trying to form groups in the name of castes. Naturally, landlords will take advantage of this situation and subjugate the depressed sections. These feudal forces will ensure that dalits, tribals get tougher works and get less wages. Already such sinister trends are going on in AP and Telangana and there is a drastic difference in wages amongst various social groups.

If the advisory is implemented, there will be different wages for different castes. Our country has a notorious past wherein dalits were always paid less for their works as compared to other dominant castes. This situation may repeat in future. Women are doing 50 per cent of jobs as of now. Once the work division is made according to castes, women are going to be the worst affected. The unity amongst workforce will surely get hampered. This decision has to be seen along with farm laws, electricity law and labour codes mooted by the BJP government.
In the national struggles against all these laws, we must add the struggle against caste division in MGNREGA and unify farmers, workers and agricultural workers. The Employment Guarantee Act has prevented many starvation deaths in our country and led to the hike in wages in agriculture.