Farmhand Yashodabai Rathod, 38, migrated to Mumbai for the second time in last three years, with her husband, three daughters, three sons, brother-in-law, his wife and their three children from the drought-hit southeastern Maharashtra region of Marathwada.
Sporting a gold nose ring and mangalsutra (a gold chain Hindu women wear as a sign of allegiance to husbands), Rathod shared her story reluctantly but with candour, playing with her 10-year-old son as she discussed the chores for the day with sister-in-law Nageshree Vishnukant Rathod, who was babysitting her two-year-old daughter.
Yashodabhai sets off to find work only when the family is short of money. When she does work, she earns Rs 300 a day, mostly as a bigari or unskilled worker at construction sites. Her family’s 600-km migration by bus indicates the administrative failure of a government programme meant to provide work to the poor, especially in times of distress.
Five of Rathod’s family broke boulders and built temporary roads, working 30 days under the world’s largest make-work plan, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, in her village of Nevli in Mukhed taluk in the southeastern district of Nanded last year.
Yashodabai, 38, has three daughters and three sons. She got her oldest daughter married at the age of 14. One daughter dropped out in Class 8, and the youngest one is in Class 5, about to meet the same fate as her sisters.
None of them were paid, the fallout – explained ahead – of a scandal that indicates administrative lapses and the MGNREGA’s failure in a year of record drought. This is a time when it should have been working at full tilt, guaranteeing 100 days of work to every household every year, as required by law.
Instead, nearly four times as many families (350 instead of 80-100) left Mukhed and flocked to a temporary migrant site of tarpaulin-and-bamboo homes in the central Mumbai suburb of Ghatkopar. We examined some of these lives in the first part of this series as part of an IndiaSpend survey.
From Mukhed to Mumbai
Rathod’s family, with two other couples, own about two acres of land in their village. There is no irrigation, well or borewell, so they could plant no winter crop after the rains failed last year.
They worked as farm labour during the four monsoon months of 2015, finding work three days every week. Women earned Rs 100 a day, the men Rs 200. Over the four months, the family earned Rs 20,000, not enough to get by. It is in situations of distress like these that the MGNREGA was meant to offer an alternative to migration.
With the failure of the MGNREGA – about which the only thing she knew was that her work was getting registered on a job card – in Mukhed, her family, like many others, lost faith in the world’s largest make-work programme, which the World Bank in 2013 called a “stellar” example of rural development.
In Mukhed, the MGNREGA’s failure was a key reason for large-scale migration to Mumbai.
“MGNREGA works were in full swing in the entire district till 2011-12,” Kalpana Kshirsagar, deputy chief executive officer of Nanded District Council, told IndiaSpend. She acknowledged that “activity has subsided in the last three years, especially in Mukhed taluk of Nanded district”, where Rathod’s village is located.
Expenditure on wages, number of person-days employed and those who worked in Mukhed taluka declined steadily between 2012-13 to 2015-16; a period that – according to local politicians – sent a flood of migrants to Mumbai.
No more than Rs 26 lakh was spent as MGNREGA wages for 782 workers in 2015-16, compared to Rs 25 crore on 45,800 workers in 2012-13.
Corruption and administrative failure
Tushar Rathod, Bharatiya Janata Party member of legislative assembly representing Mukhed taluka, said the data did not reflect reality.
“On paper, from 2009 till 2014, a lot of works under MGNREGA were undertaken in our taluka,” he told IndiaSpend. “In reality, many of those were carried out using machines, and employment registers were falsely filled with names of labourers. Money was laundered, workers did not know their names were used, no one got paid, and works of inferior quality were completed.”
After news of the scandal broke, the district magistrate initiated criminal action in about 23 villages and about 200 accused named in the order, including the sarpanch (elected village head) and gram sevak (village administrative officer), fled their villages.”
Rathod spoke of “a panic situation” in the taluka, with no village panchayat “daring to initiate MGNREGA works, the key reason for the steep fall in jobs created and money spent on the scheme”.
Kshirsagar said that those who signed up for MNREGA also got more money working on large farms and still more working on urban construction sites. “So, they naturally avoid MGNREGA,” she said.
Yet, many would have stayed had MGNREGA worked as it should, Rathod said.
“Amchya gavaatach kaam bhetla tar hikda yaaychi paali naay yenar (If we get enough work and earn enough in our village itself, we won’t need to come here)”, said Yashodabai.
The agent who supervised MGNREGA in Yashodabai’s Nevli village did not pay her family the money they earned, saying that he himself had not received money from the government.
“The works supervisor was the son of the police patil, a village police officer," she said. "He repeatedly said he’d pay us our due, but never did he. His family controls a powerful administrative post in the village, there was nothing we could do."
So, their migration continues. “Come this Monday and you won’t find us here,” said Yashodabai. “We are leaving the day after to work as farmhands in our village.”
This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.