Students enrol in MGNREGA programme to pay for higher education

There is a rise in graduates opting to work under the employment guarantee scheme owing to the COVID-19 pandemic

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) programme has come to the rescue of students who would have otherwise been forced to sacrifice their higher education dreams owing to the financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many students are working under this programme to generate funds for their education.

One such student, who is determined to get her Masters degree, is 20-year-old Asma Begum from Kardal, Chittapur taluk in Kalaburagi district. A B.A. graduate from Gulbarga University, she has been working under the NREGA programme since July last year. “I had to discontinue my studies due to the financial hardship being faced by my family,” she said.

She was initially roped in to work on the construction of bunds in her village, and is now involved in monitoring people working under the programme.

She appeared for her B.A. examination in December 2020 and used the money she earned under the scheme to pay her examination fees. “The pandemic affected us a lot as there were no jobs in our village. To make matters worse, our crops were washed away in rains. Right now, I depend on NREGA to earn money to pay my examination fees, and also used my earnings to buy a mobile phone to attend online classes,” she said.

She has worked for 40 days under the programme and earned ₹11,000 so far. She wants to pursue a Masters of Social Work in the 2021-22 academic year.

Manjunath Shatikar, who completed his B.A. from Rani Chennamma University, started working under the NREGA programme in March. A resident of Nimbal village in Kalaburagi district, he has been working on the rejuvenation of a lake. He dreams of joining the police, and is saving up to buy study material for the competitive examination. “I can work in the morning, go back home in the afternoon and prepare for the examination,” he said.

The scheme has helped Nethravati Lingappa Bhovi from Chikkabenkal village in Koppal, who has completed B.A. and B.Ed and is doing her M.A. in Kannada from a college affiliated to Vijayanagara Sri Krishnadevaraya University. She has been working on and off under the programme. “I worked for a month last year and for 20 days this year,” she said. Among other tasks, she has worked on desilting of lakes and cleaning of canals.

Anirudh Sravan P., Commissioner, MGNREGA said, “It is not common to see graduates working under the programme, but since April-May 2020, we have come across graduates working under NREGA.”

Under the programme, each household in rural areas is guaranteed 100 days of employment through unskilled manual work. The daily wage is ₹275.

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