High relevance of anti-poverty schemes

The MNREGS with its participation and equal wages to women is thus a policy device to reduce family level poverty and incidentally an enabler of longer stay of children/girls in the educational stream.

Absolute poverty has declined significantly in our country (271 million have been pulled above the poverty line during 2006-16, according to a 2019 UNDP report). But relative poverty has increased and is increasing, according to OXFAM and other reports.

Accruals to incomes and wealth, though all too obvious increases in GDP growth, are confined to a top few, and people in the bottom-most rungs are stagnating in their level of access, prospects and well-being.

A new type and degree of poverty, call it even deprivation (the poor of today are manifestly better than the poor 30 years ago), is afflicting the people. This needs newer and specialised methods of attack on this socio-economic scourge - perhaps a new tweaking or renewed seriousness in the known programmes is needed.

Any pleading on this issue should not be politically decried or belittled as povertarian or Communist thinking by pointing out aspirational tendencies and islands of prosperity spreading in society.

Moreover, laissez faire policies (primacy to markets including labour markets), ease of doing business including retrenching of labour, relying on capitalist entrepreneurs and ubiquitous state and national level investors’ conclaves to solve the problem of growth, inequality, man power training, employment and incomes, have proved to be less than effective. A 45-year high in unemployment rate has been acknowledged universally.

Resorting to labour-saving devices and casualisation/informalisation of labour is gaining vogue, even in government employment. So, standard, secure employment with reasonable incomes is beset with ever new hurdles and even a sort of official indifference prevails.

Decline in poverty levels is concomitant with the operations of the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Generation Scheme (MNREGS), enacted/operationalised since 2006. And since 2014, this anti-poverty employment scheme has become politically undermined and ridiculed, though pressure of public opinion has made the government continue with allocations, albeit reduced in real terms.

And the government has said that MNREGS is only a short-term programme and will soon have to end (Union Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar while replying to debate on grants to his ministry for 2019-20).

On the other hand, the NITI Ayog has held this programme as one of the core Centrally-sponsored schemes leading to achievement of sustainable development goals (SDG) by 2030.

This type of contradiction/confusion must end regarding public policy; and all agencies/personnel concerned down the ladder have to focus on achieving further success in this useful and credible scheme, empirically borne out at the field level.

They also do everything to make the intentions and provisions, form and content more effective in not only achieving increased rural agricultural productivity but also make participatory democracy vis-a-vis MNREGS a success.

An experience of BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) reveals that a 1% real growth in agriculture is more effective in reducing poverty than a corresponding growth in service and manufacturing sectors.

Anti-poverty investment and planning intervention in agriculture is cognate with MNREGS; land levelling, rain water conservation, upgrading and desilting water bodies, greening of precincts and hill slopes are all intimately leading to increase agricultural production including in dry land farming and animal husbandry, resulting in fulfilling the needs of nutrition and health all across the poorer sections, women and children. 

Fertility increase and economy in irrigation use will lead to increased absorption of labour in agriculture and higher rural incomes; and this leads to demand increase in all other sectors, construction, transport, health care etc.

Denting family level poverty and inequality is significantly a goal and is dependent upon ensuring women’s participation in production and their earnings; in Indian society, their dignity enhances when they are earning and hence autonomous in decision making including spending.

The MNREGS with its participation and equal wages to women is thus a policy device to reduce family level poverty and incidentally an enabler of longer stay of children/girls in the educational stream.

Soil fertility

Since this employment scheme works are locally centred, women are de-risked from the prospect of long absence from home and commuting. Education and skilling leads to stabler, more formal and higher incomes to the younger people in the coming years.

The works famously associated with MNREGS promote soil fertility, upgradation of water bodies and irrigation access. This package contributes to drought-proofing and availability of drinking water and its proximity to households.

Upgradation of water bodies everywhere and increasing their capacity will reduce flooding of rivers during monsoons. This is indeed an act to somewhat forestall poverty and life vulnerability.

Another known aspect of poverty is landlessness and marginal land holding including belonging to SCs, STs and other backward castes. The poor have to rely upon labour and wages more regularly available.

The MNREGS, a paradigm anti-poverty device acting as a bench mark wage assurance, is sure to work against systemic and family level poverty.

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