The agriculture sector in India has been characterized with high supply of labour than demand, low wages, and limited options of earning livelihood. In recent past, due to the increased rural-to-urban migration and the inception of MGNREGS in 2006 and other public works, visible change came into the picture. Schemes like rural MGNREGS are found to be attractive in rural locations. But the government’s move to provide labourers under MGNREGS has not been free from criticism either.
All over the world, agricultural scientists and economists are concerned about the shortage of farm labour, and farm labourers are moving towards urban centers in search of nonfarm labour, the crisis is now reaching new levels. Some blame the implementation of the MGNREGA. The Union Rural Development Ministry states that MGNREGA is not solely responsible for the labor shortage and has validated the same with the following:
• A study that found high non-farm wages having a more significant role in the diversion from agriculture than MGNREGA. Data from financial year 2010-11 suggests that 70 % of the work in the scheme have been generated during the agriculture lean season.
• The Union Rural Development Ministry stresses that MGNREGA has rather given the bargaining power to the rural labour working all these decades with suppressed wages. For instance, land owners used to tie up labourers at a pre-determined rate for agricultural seasons to minimise production costs. But it is no longer so.
In spite of the ministry supporting MGNREGA and its positive implementation, the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) recommended that MGNREGA should be put on hold during the agricultural season, so that enough labour will be available for farm operations. It can be implemented during the lean period that will ensure them work for 120 days. On the demand to suspend all MGNREGA works during the peak agriculture seasons, the ministry says it would be unfair to the surplus labour that may not find employment even during such time. It would be thus unfair to blame MGNREGA solely for the farm hand shortage. The shortcomings cannot be denied but the programme carries a more direct and positive impact on reducing the distress migration by providing work closer to home with decent working conditions. In Anantpur, Andhra Pradesh, the migration level came down from 27% to 7%. Subsequently distressed migration came down to 45% in 2009-10. In Sidhi district of MP, migration reduced by 60%. Though MGNREGA is not free of criticism, it has its positive aspect too which cannot be neglected.