Need, Desperation & Demand But Little Work Under MNREGA for Thousands Across UP

There is a desperate need for work under MNREGA in UP but many complain of insufficient work & irregularities in pay

Need, Desperation & Demand But Little Work Under MNREGA for Thousands Across UP
Hindi Female

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“I have to spend an entire day’s wage on one trip to the hospital.

Do you know how much will I earn for a day’s work under MNREGA? Rs 120.

Do you know how many days’ work would I get when I did? 4 days a month.

Do you know that last time there was any work done in this village under MNREGA? July 2018.”

Sixty-year-old Pachhi’s livelihood has been entirely dependent on the work available under MNREGA, primarily because she is landless. In 2012 her son migrated to Surat where he started working in an iron factory.

Pachhi, 60, is a landless daily wage labourer in Uttar Pradesh's Banda.

Photo: Sadhika Tiwari/The Quint


During the COVID-19 induced lockdown in March 2020 her son had to walk back to his village like thousands of other migrants across the country. Before he returned, Pachhi’s son was earning Rs 10,000 per month, from which he would also send some money back home.

Ever since the work under MNREGA stopped in Pachhi’s village she was entirely reliant on the money sent by her son.

Work available in the city was too far for Pachhi who is a daily wage labourer in Banda district in Uttar Pradesh. When her son also lost his job, the want for MNREGA work grew desperate.

Women, all of whom haven't received any work under MNREGA and the men in these families have migrated out.

Photo: Sadhika Tiwari/The Quint


She paid several visits to the village head and pleaded for work. Each time, she returned disheartened with the same response, “we have enough labourers, for now, there is no work for you.”

There has been a sharp rise in demand for MNREGA from villages during the lockdown. Unemployment, reverse migration and agricultural losses are the three primary reasons for this. But while the demand is peaking, the work available under the scheme is proving to be grossly insufficient. Even among those who do manage to get some work, many are not paid their wages in full or in time.

Despite a palpable crisis and an evident need, the allocation of funds for MNREGA in this year’s budget has been slashed down by 25%.

Kuiya, 50, is a daily wage labourer with three children. She struggles to find daily wage labour in the absence of MNREGA work in her village. 

Photo: Sadhika Tiwari/The Quint

High Demand, No Work under MNREGA

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act promises 100 days of unskilled labour every year to all rural households. The act also has a provision for an additional 50 days of work during situations of crisis like drought and natural calamities.

The status of availability of work under MNREGA was still dismal even before the pandemic. But it is during this time when other avenues of daily wage labour shut down, the reliance on MNREGA increased and people still failed to find work under the scheme.

Chunuku, 74 is a daily wage labourer from Banda.

Photo: Sadhika Tiwari/The Quint

In 2020-21, the demand for work under MGNREGA increased by 43% from 2019-20. According to government data even during this period, an average worker received 52 days of labour and not the promised 100. The picture on the ground seems much worse.

We visited villages in two districts of Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelkhand, the city’s most impoverished region– Banda and Hamirpur. Most people in these villages are either landless or are weaning away from agriculture due to rapidly decreasing outputs. There is also little and infrequent daily wage labour available in these villages and even in the nearby cities.

Beetul (50), Shakuntala (45) and Neha (25) (Left to right) are women whose husbands work in Gujarat. These women used to work under MNEGA and are now unemployed.

Photo: Sadhika Tiwari/The Quint

“People have migrated from 95% households in our villages. What will they do here if there is no work.”
Usha Nishad, 28, a daily wage labourer and social worker, Banda, UP

Almost all of these people have migrated to cities in Gujarat and work in iron factories, brick kilns or sewing thread factories.

Most of those who can, migrate out to bigger towns, but there are many like the elderly and women who don’t have such mobility. And even this option was taken away during the lockdown.

The demand for MGNREGA in UP doubled in 2020-21 to 15.7 million persons. As of February 9, 2022, about 87.5 lakh households in UP have sought work under the scheme but only 5% have completed 100 days of work.

“Even those who manage to get work it is barely for 4 or 5 days a month and that also for the entire family. It is not as if three adults who can work will all get work.”
Manoj Kumar, 48, from Banda, who has a family of six.

Mansingh (22) lives migrated to Surat, Gujarat and worked in a factory. He walked to his village in Banda for 9 days with 16 people in March 2020 and has been unemployed since.

Photo: Sadhika Tiwari/The Quint

This context is critical to understand the importance of MNREGA for these people who have no other source of livelihood to fall back on in the absence of work under the scheme. No MNREGA work means no money for basics like proper meals and hospital treatments, let alone children’s education.

“All the labourers who came during reverse migration in the lockdown kept asking for work but got nothing. When the situation worsened for their families they took debt,” said Raja Bhaiyya, a regional activist who runs a grassroots NGO, Vidya Dham Samiti.

"Many failed to receive any loans. Their families went hungry for days. These reasons compelled labourers to take their own lives.”
Raja Bhaiyya, regional activist, NGO Vidya Dham Samiti

Daily wage labourers in Kalinjer, Banda.

Photo: Sadhika Tiwari/The Quint

No Job Cards, Irregular Payments

Getting work is not the first challenge. A job card is mandatory to get work under MNREGA, getting this card made is the big challenge. Those who migrate out of the village don’t have it. Getting this card made during the pandemic was an uphill task.

“I have been trying to get a job card since April 2020, there is absolutely no work here, I have tried everything. A job card is my last hope, if I get that maybe something I will get,” said Tulsi Sonkar, 38.

“You will think I am lying, I must be just lazy and maybe I am not trying as hard to get work. I have four daughters, how will I feed them, keep them alive if I am lying.”
Tulsi Sonkar, daily wage labourer.

Tulsi Sonkar, 38.

Photo: Sadhika Tiwari/The Quint

Those who live in the village also have to struggle to ensure that they have a card and that it has correct details.

“I have tried twice since last year to get this card made. They finally made a card but it says Nanesh Lal, my name is Ganeshi Lal. I can’t get work on this card and the Pradhan refuses to get it fixed. I have two daughters to look after, tell me how to survive in this state?” said Ganeshi Lal, 46 from Kalinjer village, Banda.

Ganeshi Lal with his Job card that is useless because of the wrong name.

Photo: Sadhika Tiwari/The Quint


Once you have a job card and you also get work, many complain that not all the work done is registered on the card. “If I dig six khantis (Khanti is a local unit of measuring land. One khanti is a shallow pit which is 10 feet long, 8 feet wide and 1 foot deep) they will only list four, or they say take Rs 500 and go away,” said Kamta, 57 from Banda.

“These people are supposed to get either Rs 204/day or Rs 204/Khanti, whichever ends first,” said Raja Bhaiyya.

We learnt that irregular payments or reducing the number of job days are done at a local level by the village heads. Ideally, these village heads receive funds for the total number of job cards issued in their village for hundred days of work each for a year. Creating fake job cards or issuing job cards to family and friends eases the process of directing these funds to the cards which ultimately end up with the village head.

A page from the bank statement that shows the withdrawal of money.

Photo: Sadhika Tiwari/The Quint

“We accessed the bank statements of the money withdrawn for MNREGA in Attaraa rural village panchayat in Banda district, through an RTI. The bank statements show that Rs 60 lakh were withdrawn within three-four days against only two bank accounts. This money was withdrawn for two things– material needed for construction work and daily wage for the labourers. But no villagers in any of these villages worked under MNREGA for any such construction work, and one can go and see that there is no construction work that has been done at all.” said Raja Bhaiyya.

“And now the entire quota of money given for 100 days of paid labour for the total number of job cards for Atarra Rural Gram panchayat has been exhausted while hungry and helpless people are running from pillar to post seeking work. So there is no work at all now and there isn’t going to be any work for the rest of this financial year,” he added.

Lallu, 18, migrated from Banda to Surat in Gujarat when he was 11 year-old and started operating a thread making machine in a factory. He earned Rs 50,000/month but is now under huge debt. He has been unemployed for a year in his village and failed to get a job card made for himself.

Photo: Sadhika Tiwari/The Quint

The village heads prefer paying the labourers a lesser amount without registering their work on their respective job cards.

“Even if MNREGA work goes on here for three-four days, they fill up fake job cards for people who did not actually do any work and labourers are given Rs 400 for those entire 3-4 days. Nobody objects because what other option do we have,” said Usha Nishad.

And many people that we spoke to had similar stories of resignation and helplessness to share.

“We are getting through life with bated breath. The Yogi government has kept us alive but it has sucked our blood,” said sixty-year-old Pachhi.

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Topics:  Jobs   MNREGA   MGNREGA 

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