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Print edition : Aug 25, 2022 T+T-

2006: Rural job scheme MGNREGA introduced

Workers at an MGNREGA site near Ajmer in May 2020. 

Workers at an MGNREGA site near Ajmer in May 2020.  | Photo Credit: PTI

It is credited with enabling a second term for Manmohan Singh’s government in 2009.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was introduced by the United Progressive Alliance government, partly to fulfil an election manifesto promise. Rural distress and unemployment were so high at the time that the Bill did not encounter any opposition when Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh presented it in Parliament. It was greeted with applause and passed by voice vote. It has to be seen alongside other progressive pieces of legislation introduced by UPA-I such as the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Right to Education (RTE) Act, and the National Food Security Act. But the MGNREGA was so successful that it is often credited with enabling a second term for Manmohan Singh’s government in 2009.

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It was implemented in a phased manner, with the 200 most backward districts covered in 2006-07. The primary objective of the Act is to provide a minimum level of household security to rural families by providing work for unskilled labour for at least 100 days.

The other objectives include creation of productive assets of prescribed quality and durability by providing wage employment, strengthening the livelihood resource base of the rural poor, ensuring social inclusion of women, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and strengthening the Panchayati Raj institutions. The Act is aimed at strengthening natural resource management through projects that address causes of distress such as drought, deforestation and soil erosion.

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The MGNREGA is said to have been inspired by Maharashtra’s Employment Guarantee Scheme, which was conceived as a drought relief measure in 1972-73. Later, it got converted into a legal guarantee programme. But it comes on the heels of a long list of public-works-based employment guarantee programmes since the 1980s. Some examples are the National Rural Employment Programme, the Rural Landless Employment Guarantee Programme, the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana, the Employment Assurance Scheme, the Jawahar Gram Samridhi Yojana, the Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana and the National Food for work programme. After the BJP came to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mocked the Act in Parliament. But the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic collapse forcefully established how useful such a scheme is in times of crisis.