With deficit rainfall across many mandals in Andhra Pradesh and with the farm works stalling, agricultural labourers have become solely dependant on NREGA works. However, despite payment from the Centre, there still exists outstanding dues worth Rs 764 crore in wages that are yet to be paid to these agricultural workers in the state under the scheme.
Under the employment guarantee scheme or National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), every registered rural household are eligible to get 100 days of guaranteed work. The poverty alleviation scheme usually witnesses higher demand during the non-farming seasons.
Up until mid-July, Andhra Pradesh recorded 48% deficit rainfall this monsoon receiving a total of just 70.1 mm rainfall against the normal rainfall of 135.5 mm in the first ten days of the month. This had prompted Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy to announce a Rs 2000 crore state calamity fund to help farmers overcome the impact of severe drought conditions in the state. There has been no announcement of relief for farm labourers.
Speaking on the floor of the Assembly earlier in July, Jagan Reddy said, â€śDuring the Kharif season which commenced on June 1, cultivation is done on an average area of 42 lakh hectares. Every year, sowing takes place on an average of 9.15 lakh hectares by July 10. But, this year, sowing was done only on 3.82 lakh hectares.â€ť
â€śDue to the delayed monsoon, cultivation has not commenced in several parts of the state. Added to this, there is a severe drinking water crisis in the entire state,â€ť added the chief minister.
On the ground, mainly across Rayalseema and north coastal districts of the state, there has been a 50% increase in demand for work under NREGA when compared to the same period last year, says Chakradhar Buddha, program manager with Libtech India â€” a group of engineers, social workers and social scientists working with tribals in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Chakradhar analysed the cumulative number of persons seeking work under the scheme last year and this year for the same period.
"Usually, the peak season for work would be from April to May. By the first week of July, the works under NREGA would almost be over. But this year, already we are at the end of July and still, NREGA is working overtime because there are no rains at all. The government data suggests the same," says Chakradhar.
Though there still is demand for NREGA work, the Centre owes Rs 764 crore as pending wages from 2018. This,despite the Centre making a payment of Rs 2,300 crore in June to meet NREGA expenses for this year.
An official with the Andhra Pradesh Rural and Panchayat Department told TNM, "Of the Rs 2300 crore, about Rs 900 crore was used to clear pending wages from last year, administrative and machinery expenses. Usually, we clear last yearâ€™s payments by April but if there are no funds, it gets carried forward to the next year.â€ť
The official added that the spike in demand for NREGA work being witnessed was normal, however, if an extra 50 days of work is needed, it would require a proposal to the Centre from the stateâ€™s agriculture department.
According to Chakradhar, any delay from the state to send a drought proposal would mean the 50 days extra work under the scheme would also get delayed and prove useless for the workers. "When the proposal from the state reaches the Centre, it takes a minimum of 30 days for them to even come up with an announcement, this has happened multiple times. The state also often in the past delayed sending proposals, they would wait for the monsoon to get over. By the time the 50 days get allocated, the wage quota gets over and no one gets paid," he added.
Officials from the agriculture department were unavailable to comment on the status of a drought proposal for the state of Andhra Pradesh.