According to a study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and non-governmental organisation (NGO) Sambodhini, 11 per cent of those who used labour under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) for work on their fields recorded a shift from traditional agriculture to horticulture.
The study covered 2,381 people across Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh during 2008 to 2012.
The study also found in the case of 42 per cent of the households who sought employment under MGNREGS for work on their land, the employees didn’t return to the rural job scheme, implying the condition of the workers had improved.
A total of 12 per cent of the respondents reported an increase in cultivable land, while 36 per cent reported a rise in the number of crops sown, suggesting the scheme was partly realising its objective of making small and marginal farmers and other marginalised communities self-reliant, said a note by the rural development ministry.
The study also mentioned the absence of “rationing” of work under the scheme, which promised 100 days of work a year to every villager who demanded it. It said in the past 12 months, 94 per cent of the households that had demanded work under the scheme had received employment. The households also reported high awareness levels on MGNREGS. For example, about 90 per cent of the respondents knew of the main provisions of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, including the number of work days and wage rates, the study said.
Andhra Pradesh (98 per cent) and Madhya Pradesh (95 per cent) reported the highest percentage of respondents who had demanded work under the scheme in the last five years. Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh were ahead of the other states in the survey, in terms of using MGNREGS for individual land. Madhya Pradesh saw the highest proportion of respondents reporting an increase in annual income, owing to creation of assets on their land (97 per cent), the study noted.
The study found 58 per cent of the respondents who sought work under MGNREGS had done so to have assets created on their land. Of those that had demanded work, 22 per cent said this was because it would be an additional source of income.
Samarthan, an NGO that works across 13 districts in Madhya Pradesh, said in the past five years, work on one’s personal land under MGNREGS was very popular. Vishal Nayak of Samarthan said, “We have acute shortage of government-owned land in Madhya Pradesh. So, the state has been promoting work on individual land. There are 18 exclusive schemes for using MGNREGS for one’s own land. For instance, people can seek workers under this scheme for digging a well in a farm, for levelling fields, for digging a toilet pit, for irrigation-related works, etc.”
He said horticulture was popular among those who had sufficient water, as MGNREGS had, along with the agriculture department, provided workers, technical guidance, plants and seeds for horticulture in the state. As a result, many were opting for horticulture.
K S Gopal, a researcher at the Tata Institute for Social Sciences and an activist in Andhra Pradesh, said work on individual land had always been popular in Andhra Pradesh.
Random queries in villages in Uttar Pradesh, however, showed the findings of the survey didn’t indicate a trend. Villagers in Sonbhadra, for instance, aren’t aware of the provision to demand workers for their land. Abhay Kumar of Dudhi Vikas Samiti, an NGO, said, “People barely get work under MGNREGS in Dudhi. And, with the huge divide between the poor and the powerful, it is unthinkable for the poor to demand any such work here, or for the pradhans to grant it.”