The ongoing drought is fuelling distress migration from districts in Telangana, a trend that was witnessed in the early 2000s. The severe drought conditions for the second consecutive year have led to crop failure, mounting debts, chronic unemployment and failure of the NREGA scheme, especially in the districts of Mahbubnagar, Medak, and Adilabad, forcing large-scale exodus of farmers and others.
The fruits of a people’s movement and the world’s largest anti-poverty public works, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is aimed to provide at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every rural household, last year provided employment to 38 lakh wage seekers belonging to 22 lakh households only in Telangana. But it has to expend to its full potential to arrest migration from Telangana districts.
MGNREGA in the State is being implemented in 8517 gram panchayathis in 436 mandals of 9 districts; it was a lifeline for 55 lakh or one in every four rural homes.
Up to 70% of interested poor households did not receive any NREGA works between 2004-05 and 2011-12, reports the India Human Development Survey in Telangana.
Unemployment allowance, stipulated in the law, has also rarely been paid as a substitute. Nevertheless, for recipient families, 32% of their poverty decline comes from NREGA alone, according to IHDS.
Under the law, promulgated in 2005, each household is guaranteed 100 days of work every year. But, on average, each NREGA household received only 45 days of work over the last decade–less than half the guarantee.
So, it is ironic that people in drought-hit areas will get additional 50 days of work in 231 mandals, but this does not work as a drought –relief measure, as only 5% (1.1 lakh) of employed households hit the 100-day mark last year in Telangana. At its, peak about 18% have yet to received 100 days of work. It means average day provided per household is 37 days only in Telangana. Miserable, the Statewide person-days- a measure of NREGA, employment – almost halved in 2015-16 (Upto December,2015) with 8.23 crore person-days generated with an average rate of Rs.124.40, compared to its peak five years ago about 16.20 crore.
The law stipulates that wages are to be paid within 15 days. In 2014-15 about 40% of wages delayed, where as this year, no more than 45% of wages have been paid on time, in the midst of drought, rural households who survive hand –to-mouth cannot afford to wait. Moreover, the compensation for delayed payment is rare in most of the instances, in this matter recently; the Supreme Court took on 18 January,2016 asked the Centre to give information about implementation of schemes under MGNREGA.
The scheme was launched by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in its first term and delays in wage payments preceded the change in government, but matters have come to a head over the last year, resulting in a decline in the number of people participating.
Besides, NREGA wages are lower than the minimum wages for unskilled agriculture work, which makes it difficult to attract workers, especially youth, who often prefer to migrate to urban areas in Telangana at present average wage rate is Rs.124.40 is lower than several states such as Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan.
On a more positive front, 40% of households employed under the law are impoverished Dalits and Adivasis, even without any explicit targeting. The IDHS attributes 38% and 28% of the reduction in poverty in employed Dalit and Adivasi (tribal) homes, respectively, to NREGA alone.
As importantly, in a patriarchal society, the NREGA has emerged as a torchbearer for women’s empowerment. As many as 57% NREGA workers in 2015-16 were women, and their participation has soared 38% over the last decade.
Even before the Jan Dhan Yojana, the NREGA had opened 100 million bank accounts, often used by women for their wages, often for the first time, and on par with men.
Though Rs.116.20 crore expenditure has been incurred towards 37,720 lakhs works towards sanitation in 2015-16, there has also been much hand-wringing about the quality of works, a deeper look into reveals that 20% of works were to improve rural sanitation and another 30% of works for water conservation, flood control, drought proofing and micro-irrigation works. More than half the amount was earmarked for   Telangana Ku Haritharm i.e Rs.237.8 crore incurred for raising of 35 crore seedlings in 4144 nurseries but 6.30 crore seedlings only planted out of 120 crore seedlings planned.
It is the need of the hour to prevent migration from rural areas to urban areas by creating innovative works in drought-hit mandals and to increase the cap to 200 days in Telangana with wage enhancement up to Rs.200. And there is every need to offer urban dwellers guaranteed employment like Tripura State.
The State has to take up more works related to the agricultural point of view to improving agricultural productivity.
For example, the Institute for Human Development shows a high completion rate, with a 6% rate of return for about 100,000 wells sanctioned in Jharkhand.
The Maharashtra government’s Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan to make 5,000 villages drought-free also depends on the NREGA. In another ingenious initiative, Tamil Nadu has employed60,000 sanitation workers under NREGA across three-fourth of villages. In Karnataka, NREGA workers have even been employed to manufacture environment-friendly earthen bricks.
Despite the Prime Minister’s mockery of the lifeline in Parliament last year, the Bharatiya Janata Party, at the 10th-anniversary celebration of NREGA, hailed it as the nation’s “pride”.
Empirical evidence  suggest that delays in wage payments are turning workers away from the scheme and towards more exploitative forms of work that might require them to leave their States, but where payment is guaranteed each week. Institutional mechanisms written into the scheme, including a social audit system, have been neglected, and wages have not kept pace with inflation.