Rural Crisis

As MNREGA work dries up, even the elderly in Bihar are migrating to brick-kilns

The cost of underfunding the rural jobs scheme is visible in the villages of Bihar.

In a year when large swathes of rural India reeled under drought, the Centre used WhatsApp messages to ask states to go slow on generating employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

This startling revelation emerged in the public domain in the last week of October through the reports of the Business Standard.

But for people in villages across India, the news is hardly surprising.

In Ratnauli village in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district, people said it has been a struggle to get MNREGA work this year. As in most parts of Bihar, landholdings in the village are severely skewed. According to Madina Begum, a woman in her late forties, of the 1,500 families in the panchayat, no more than 10 or 20 families own land. The rest are sharecroppers. The economics of their households are hard to imagine.

This is a paddy growing part of Bihar. Here, after deducting the investments they make for each crop and the money they pay the landowners, she said, the annual income that sharecroppers make from farming is as low as Rs 5,000.

"That is why NREGA is important for us," she said. "If we get work for 100 days, that is Rs 17,700."

According to the rural employment guarantee act, the government is obligated to provide households with a minimum of 100 days of work every year. In the best of times, households have found it hard to get 100 days of work. Since 2014, when the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power at the Centre, the struggle has intensified.

“We did not get any work all of 2014," said Begum. "We got 20 days in 2015."

This year, Begum said, the villagers put in a request asking for 100 days of work. "But, so far, we have only received 35 days of employment."

Protests break out

As Business Standard reported, the Centre began sending instructions to the states on WhatsApp in August. Since then, work generated under the scheme has been "54.8 million days less than what had been planned”.

Villagers in Bihar might not know why MNREGA work dried up, but they are living with its consequences. In Ratnauli, things have reached such a point of desperation, said Begum, that even people in their fifties have begun migrating, seeking work in backbreaking brick kilns.

In the neighbouring panchayat of Dumri, villagers found the administration had misrepresented the work they did, paying them Rs 91 per day instead of the minimum daily wage of Rs 177. As a result, the villagers, who have come together under a local movement called NREGA Watch led by activist Sanjay Sahni, have been camping in protest at the district collector's office for two months now. If the matter is not resolved by the end of October, they say, they will return the wages to the state government.

Begum sums up the state of affairs: "Block ke afsar ko mahiney mahiney tankah aati hain. Koi nahin dekhta hamein hamara adhikar mil raha hain ya nahin." The officials get monthly salaries. No one is concerned whether we are getting what is rightfully ours.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BULLETIN BY 

Five memes that explain why you need a toothpaste for your payday

That payday smile won’t shine itself.

At the end of the month, every salaried professional experiences a wide range of feelings. First, there’s extreme possessiveness - after spending several days trying to live off whatever little is left from paying bills and all those shopping binges, you’re understandably cranky and unwilling to part with the cash you have.

Giphy
Giphy

Then the week of payday arrives and you can finally breathe a sigh of relief again. As the glorious day comes closer, you can’t contain your excitement.

Giphy
Giphy

And then payday dawns and the world gets to behold an interesting phenomenon - your payday-wala smile. It is instantly recognizable as something different and special - it stretches across your face, from ear to ear and is mirrored on the faces of your colleagues. Soon the excitement wears off and you are at complete peace. You have worked hard, you’ve earned your keep, you are in Zen mode.

Giphy
Giphy

But is there a way to make payday even happier? And make your payday smile last even longer? You may be astonished to learn there is. A way that will make you so much happier – your smile will gradually consume most of your face and need extra grooming. In fact, you might have to consider getting a special toothpaste, the Happier Toothpaste to care for the smile you have on that happier payday.

So how can you get more salary in-hand on your payday? Simple – invest in Equity Linked Savings Schemes or ELSS. These are open-ended equity Mutual Funds, with a 3 year lock-in period, that not only help you save tax but also have potential for wealth creation.

Giphy
Giphy

The icing on the cake is that the dividends from these funds are also tax free. So ELSS means more salary in-hand for you today, more potential growth for you tomorrow! To know more about ELSS and to get your own Happier Toothpaste, click here.

Statutory Details: Axis Mutual Fund has been established as a Trust under the Indian Trusts Act, 1882, sponsored by Axis Bank Ltd. (liability restricted to Rs. 1 Lakh). Trustee: Axis Mutual Fund Trustee Ltd. Investment Manager: Axis Asset Management Co. Ltd. (the AMC). Risk Factors:Axis Bank Ltd. is not liable or responsible for any loss or shortfall resulting from the operation of the scheme.

Mutual Fund Investments are subject to market risks, read all scheme related documents carefully.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Axis Mutual Fund and not by the Scroll editorial team.