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As MNREGA work dries up, even the elderly in Bihar are migrating to brick-kilns

In a year when large swathes of rural India reeled under drought, the Centre used WhatsApp messages to ask states to go slow on generating employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

This startling revelation emerged in the public domain in the last week of October through the reports of the Business Standard.

But for people in villages across India, the news is hardly surprising.

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Why lakhs of people leave Odisha to work in distant, unsafe brick-kilns

A small railway station with shanties on either side. A main street running the length of the town, selling everything from household provisions to construction materials. A semi-finished temple, a few lodges and bars, and as the town ends, a series of truck-repair shops.

The tiny town of Kantabanji in western Odisha’s Bolangir district looks unremarkable in the summer.

But come November and it whirrs to life as people arrive from the nearby countryside after harvesting the year’s sole rainfed crop. With no work in the villages for the next few months, they come to the town with their meagre belongings to catch trains to Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where they would spend the next five or six months working in brick-kilns.

During those weeks in November, the town becomes the largest migrant labour market in western Odisha. Its guesthouses and hotels fill up as brick kiln owners called “seths” come to recruit workers, with the help of local labour contractors called “sardars”. Two trains heading to Visakhapatnam – the Korba-VSKP Link Express and  the Durg-VSKP Passenger – extend their halts to make sure all the workers enter (or are loaded into) the unreserved compartments.

the persistence of this trade, despite the migrants knowing the harsh conditions which await them at the kilns, is perplexing. in this story, Scroll’s #eartotheground series tries to find answers.

MGNREGA ver 2.0

out today, this story on the changes planned by the nda for nrega.

Sanitation projects to reduce open defecation, increasing green cover and emphasis on creating assets form the crux of the Narendra Modi-led government’s blueprint for redeploying UPA’s flagship social sector programme — the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or MGNREGA.Top officials aware of the government’s re-orientation roadmap for the rural employment guarantee scheme, being steered by rural development minister Nitin Gadkari, told ET that assessment of its outcome would go beyond number of man days of work offered to tangible ground-level changes it achieved.

For instance, people digging a pond will have to mention the storage capacity being created, its impact on groundwater level, and so on. Similarly, folks digging compost pits will have to outline the quantum of compost they will generate. According to the officials, it is proposed that about half of the scheme’s fund allocations will be earmarked for rural sanitation projects and plantation of trees along highways and rural roads.

is this a good idea? on one level, yes. rural india’s tree cover is falling. as are its groundwater levels and organic carbon in its soils. at another level, however, are these changes good for nrega?

The question is whether these problems should be fixed using MGNREGA. Corruption and payment delays have shrunk the number of people seeking work under the NREGA, said Himanshu, assistant professor in economics at JNU’s Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies.”MGNREGA is not a sanitation programme, but a safety net for people who can demand work whenever they need it. In the process, some assets also get created,” he told ET, adding that the Act ceases to deliver ‘work available on demand’ the moment it gets linked to another program like sanitation. “What if the money for sanitation is not released? Then NREGA, with 20% of its budget earmarked for sanitation, will suffer,” he added.

on aadhaar, npr and the nda

my colleague and friend vikas dhoot and i have this update on the continuing aadhaar and npr saga.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has backed the UPA’s Aadhaar programme for now, but that may not be the final word on whether it will be retained. The government has asked the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which runs Aadhaar, and the census office under the home ministry to test their databases against beneficiary lists of schemes such as the LPG subsidy programme as well as documents such as passports to determine which one is more accurate, said senior government officials aware of the development. “Line ministries in charge of different schemes like education subsidy, LPG cylinders and identity documents such as passports, have been requested to share data to enable this matching exercise,” said one of the officials.

from the 2014 economic survey

Bigger public-private partnership (PPPs) in social sector programmes and a thorough overhaul of the rural employment scheme to link it with creations of assets and infrastructure relating to agriculture and tourism are on the government agenda, the Economic Survey said. The biggest challenge confronting India is “unleasing the potential of its demographic dividend’, it said. This advantage is starting to slip away. In some states, the average age of the population has already crossed 30. Kerala, for instance, has an average age of 33 years, while the corresponding number for Himachal Pradesh stands at 30.4, the survey said.

i am back from a long holiday. work resumes. first off, this quick and dirty snapshot from the economic survey on the social sector. in the story, see what nikhil dey says about the survey’s suggestion that zero-based budgeting be followed for all social sector programmes.

The biggest challenge confronting India is “unleasing the potential of its demographic dividend’, it said. This advantage is starting to slip away. In some states, the average age of the population has already cros ..

on how the upa’s development initiatives might fare under the nda

out today, a story on the possible outlook for the upa’s major development initiatives — aadhaar, cash transfers, npr, rights-based legislations, the proposed environment authority, the land acquisition bill — once the modi government takes over. 

should aadhaar be junked?

The last 60 days have not been good to India’s much-feted Aadhaar project.

On the 30th of January, the UPA pressed the pause button on direct benefits transfer for cooking gas. On 26 February, the Mumbai High Court directed Aadhaar to share its biometrics database with the CBI. A year earlier, a seven year old had been raped in Goa. And the investigating agency, struggling to make headway, had asked the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for biometrics it had collected in Goa. UIDAI refused to share information saying such a move would violate privacy of its number-holders and that its biometric database and deduplication systems were not designed for forensic inquiries. In response, the CBI went to the Mumbai High Court which directed UIDAI to share its database.

The third blow fell on 24 March when investigative journalism portal Cobrapost aired videos that allegedly showed UIDAI’s enrolment agencies agreeing to enrol people from neighbouring countries in return for a bribe. Between them, these three events underlined long-standing questions about the Aadhaar project.

Between them, these three developments highlighted large worries about the ambitious Aadhaar project. Read more here.