Beyond Enrolment: The Long Road to Availing MGNREGS Benefits
By Arya Raje and Ganesh Pandey
In the heartlands of rural India, where communities rely on the ebb and flow of agricultural seasons for their income, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS)1 aims to provide livelihood security to rural households, thereby bolstering their economic well-being.
Intended to be a revolutionary social security measure, the 2005 Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)2 was a historic step in addressing India’s increasing unemployment rate. The Act provided a statutory guarantee of 100 days of annual employment to adult members of rural households, who are willing to take up manual work at a minimum wage. Its impact extends beyond job creation, as it strives to enhance asset creation, promote sustainable development, and foster community participation.
Since 2016, we have helped over 13,330 people obtain a Job Card and have assisted almost 36,000 people with work demand (which directly gives them employment) under the scheme.
This article delves into the first-hand experiences of a dedicated field agent, or ‘Haqdarshak’, who has been instrumental in facilitating MGNREGS enrolment in Gujarat. It sheds light on the scheme’s intricacies, successes, and challenges at the grassroots level.
Through the eyes of those working on the front lines, we gain insight into the tangible changes MGNREGS brings to the lives of rural communities and the broader implications for India’s rural development.
Q. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am Akshay Mer. I am 25 years old, from the village Bhangadh in the Dholera block of Ahmedabad district. I have completed 12th standard and have an electrician diploma. Previously, I have served as a banking correspondent, gaining valuable insights into financial inclusion. For the past 3 years, I have been a ‘Haqdarshak’, working at the crossroads of rural development and social security.
Q. Can you tell us about your role in facilitating the MGNREGS?
My responsibility centers around ensuring an easy and efficient process for workers to access the benefits of the Scheme. First, I collect essential documents which is an important step for anyone to be enrolled in the MGNREGS.
I gather documents such as the Family Ration Card, which is a foundational document, as it has the names of all the family members. We also collect the Aadhaar copies and photographs of all persons listed on the Ration Card. One should be above the age of 18 to be eligible for the scheme.
One common challenge we face is the absence of a bank account for some people. So, we also support them in opening a bank account. This not only ensures that they receive their wages but also empowers people by providing them access to formal banking services.
When a family does not have their Ration Card linked to Aadhaar, I facilitate the linkage to ensure that all eligible individuals can avail the benefits of the scheme without any hindrance.
Q. How do you help people apply for the Job Card after you have collected their documents?
We submit a written application detailing the request for a Job Card to the Panchayat office. The signatures of the Talathi (village revenue officer) and the Sarpanch (village head) are obtained to authenticate the application. The Panchayat office plays a major role in processing and approving requests.
The application is then forwarded to the Gram Rozgar Sahayak (GRS), a key figure in the implementation of the Act at a grassroots level. They review the application and then submit it to the MGNREGA office at the district level.
It takes about 10 – 15 days for the application to be processed and for the MGNREGA Job Card to be issued.
We collect the documents, submit the application, and follow up on the application pathway to expedite the issuance of Job Cards.
Q. Is there anything else you do at a community level to ensure more access?
In addition to the documentation and application process, we also engage the community and hold awareness campaigns. For instance, we organise and set up outreach camps within villages to help people who do not possess a Job Card but are willing and able to work as labourers. These camps make it more accessible for community members to connect with the MGNREGS officials.
At the camps, we create awareness about the scheme, which is crucial in ensuring the community understands the opportunities available and the potential of the scheme in providing livelihood support.
We explain how a Job Card is similar to a Driver’s Licence; just as a Driver’s Licence is required to operate a vehicle, people need to possess a Job Card to secure guaranteed employment under MGNREGS.
We also step in to fill gaps where necessary. In instances where local entities may face constraints or challenges, our team helps bridge these communication and outreach gaps.
Q. After a person has a Job Card, how can they then access employment?
Access to employment is called the ‘Work Demand’ process. This process involves several steps to match labour demand with available employment opportunities.
First, we identify work opportunities within the villages that are ongoing projects, such as pond digging, roadside construction, and drainage construction.
We collect details from workers who have Job Cards and are interested in available employment opportunities. A formal application is then created.
The application is submitted to the Sarpanch office, where a written request is made specifying the number of workers seeking employment and the nature of the work they are interested in. From there, the application goes through the Sarpanch, Gram Rozgar Sahayak (GRS), and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) department.
Once approved, the work is assigned to the workers who have expressed interest, and they can begin their work.
Q. How long does this process usually take?
Unfortunately, it is a time-consuming process. The application goes through multiple channels from the taluka to the district office, and the entire process, including budget sanctions and approvals, can take a few months.
Q. Can you tell us something about the challenges you face in this?
Yes, one significant challenge is the bureaucratic delays in getting approvals. This can often be a hindrance in providing timely work opportunities to rural citizens.
Q. Can you also tell us about the payment process, and how you ensure that payments are received?
The NREGA department has details about the worker, the project, and the days of work the worker has completed in their database. They then go through an approval process before payments are released to the worker’s bank accounts.
One major challenge we face is with attendance records. Workers need to give their daily attendance, but we often find discrepancies or delays in this step.
Q. How do you address these attendance record issues?
One of our most important roles is to support attendance marking. If workers have problems with payments, they reach out to us. Our team steps in, checks attendance records, and ensures correct entries before and after their work tasks. We check the data, confirm payments, and intervene when necessary.
It is not always smooth, and we face pushback as there is resistance to disrupting some established practices.
Q. What do you think about the kind of work projects which are implemented under MGNREGS?
The work projects are always useful for the village and have been helpful to their communities. They take up work such as tree plantation, building roads, and rainwater harvesting ponds which are used for irrigation.
Q. What do you think are the major challenges, overall, in the MGNREGA process?
There are several challenges we encounter. First of all, the payment is quite low, and many workers don’t always get the full 100 days of guaranteed work.
With low levels of education in these areas, lack of awareness is a significant problem. Many of them do not know about the scheme, and often even when they have Job Cards, they are unaware of it. Sometimes, we apply for work, only to find out they already had a Job Card at the Sarpanch office.
Tribal areas tend to face many more challenges. There are instances where the work and payments are not always taking place on-ground.
Q. How have you tried to overcome these challenges?
We have tried to educate people about the Act by explaining the process in the local language and informing them about their rights. However, this needs to be done often to ensure ongoing understanding and participation.
Q. Finally, can you tell us about the other work you do with Haqdarshak, and where you see yourself in the future?
I also facilitate important documentation such as Aadhaar, and its corrections, Ration Cards, Income Certificates, Caste Certificates, and Ayushman Bharat for citizens in the community. MGNREGS is the most challenging right now. I like supporting the community with this work and would like to continue in this, in a management capacity in the future.
*The interview was conducted with Akshay Mer, with inputs from Bahelim Jivan Khan and Pravinkumar Vaniya.
1 The implementation of this scheme is looked after by the Ministry of Rural Development in association with the State Governments.
2 Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Act