Not very long ago—indeed, in July this year—the government had insisted that MGNREGA, as per the findings of independent studies, had helped reduce seasonal migration.
Not very long ago—indeed, in July this year—the government had insisted that MGNREGA, as per the findings of independent studies, had helped reduce seasonal migration. To a question on what the government was doing to stop distress migration, the junior minister for rural development, Ram Kripal Yadav, had told the Rajya Sabha that the government has increased the number of guaranteed days of work under the rural jobs guarantee programme to 150 in seven drought-affected states in FY17. However, the findings of a survey conducted by the Institute of Economic Growth show that MGNREGA has failed to curb migration meaningfully—one of the programmes’s core goals. The survey uncovered many positives from the programme—as per a Business Standard report, 78% of the respondent households reported an increase in water table, thanks to conservation works undertaken through MGNREGA.
Even an 11% increase in rural incomes was reported, though how much of it can be tied to the programme is something that needs to be unspun carefully. However, in 80% of the surveyed districts, migration has continued unabated. The study, involving 1,200 beneficiary households across 30 districts in 21 states, found that in many regions the average wage earned by a MGNREGA worker was lower than the market rate while it was lower than the minimum wage in many others. The findings, in essence, mirror what chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian and his co-authors talked about in the Economic Survey 2016-17—an increasing number of Indians from rural areas are migrating to urban centres for economic reasons. The Survey stated, based on monthly railway data on unreserved passenger traffic between 2011-2016, that nearly 9 million new persons became inter-state state migrants every year in this period—a significantly higher number than the 3.3 million figure reported in the 2011 census.
Since the 2000s, the migration rate among women has increased, signalling perhaps greater economic compulsions than before. Given MGNREGA has failed to stem migration, it is likely that beneficiaries see the programme as an unemployment allowance scheme rather than any kind of steady income source.