Nearly 90 Members of Parliament and 160 eminent citizens including former bureaucrats, leading development economists, prominent activists and leaders of farmers’ movements have written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling for an urgent response to the crisis that the
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee is facing. On January 1 st 2019, over 99% of MGNREGA funds had been exhausted and the acute funds crunch had brought the program close to a halt.

This is when a situation of distress prevails across rural India with massive unemployment, declining farm incomes and rising inequality. A functional right to an employment guarantee at such a time would be a critical means of support for protecting lives and livelihoods of the rural population. Instead, the implementation of MGNREGA has been subject to
persistent attacks by vested interests and power elites at all levels.

On 3 rd January 2019 a meeting between a Members of Parliament and civil society was held in Delhi to discuss the potential and challenges of MGNREGA in responding to rural distress. One of the outcomes of this meeting was a unanimous endorsement of a letter to the Prime Minister highlighting the ways in which MGNREGA is being undermined through the squeezing of funds and unaddressed payment delays that have lefts lakhs of workers unpaid for months. The meeting and excerpts from
the letter were widely covered by the media..

After the meeting the letter was circulated more widely and has now garnered the support of a total of 250 parliamentarians and eminent citizens.

The letter states- “we are alarmed to note that the country’s only employment guarantee is being systematically undermined. Illegal restrictions on its budget allocation, severe payment delays and low wages are crippling the program and depriving people in distress of one of their most important legally supported structures”.

The 250 signatories urge the PM to “make the strengthening of MGNREGA an urgent priority” and “formally include it as part of the set of measures being considered to deal with the current rural and agrarian crisis”. It
offers a set of concrete recommendations such as making adequate funds available to meet actual demand for employment and opening at least one labor intensive work in every gram panchayat

While the letter was being circulated for endorsement, we learnt that Rs 7000 crores have been released to the Ministry of Rural Development. This is a welcome move however the amount is still grossly inadequate and does not even cover pending liabilities totals Rs 9000 crores according to
MoRD’s website. Even with these additional funds, 91% of the money has already been utilized and after the payment of liabilities, state governments will not be able to provide any new employment reinstating status quo. Given that the lean agricultural season has begun, demand for work will be at its peak but the government will once again fail the rural poor by denying employment to those who need it the most, when they need it most.

This letter to the PM reflects a strong consensus across party lines to ensure MGNREGA is protected and strengthened as a political commitment to improving the lives of millions of rural workers across
the country.