Can MGNREGS work as a social protection scheme for women in heat-stressed areas?

Several women whom Mongabay-India spoke to in the Udaipur, Jaipur and Ajmer districts of Rajasthan said that MGNREGS salaries had greatly helped them to purchase essentials such as groceries and medication. But they never received their full salary or 100 days of work.

Mohini Bai, in her 40s, lives in Patiya, Udaipur district. Her husband migrates to nearby towns for work. Mohini has her hands full with her four children, the small family farm and livestock, and the multiple trips she makes to fetch water from a stream 500 meters away.

His experience with MGNREGS was bitter. She worked a few days last year but was not paid. She too is struggling to get her name on the call list. When pressed, she said those granting the jobs were from a different caste. Her experience echoes that of Bhuri, who is also from a Scheduled Tribe, as well as that of several other women.

Additionally, Bharadwaj said that for some women, wire transfers – the current mode of payment in MGNREGS – worsens their access to wages in times of distress. It is difficult for women to brave the summer heat to access their accounts if there is no ATM or bank near their homes. Often, women who are not financially literate are deceived, which adds another layer of vulnerability.

During the summer, workers avoid working in the heat by starting before dawn and finishing late in the morning.

Goswami also said that during heat waves the nature of work has to change. “We have to provide work that can be done in some shadow. The working conditions are inhuman. How does it work in 49-50C? He asked.

There is also a lack of convergence of India’s climate adaptation goals with social protection programs, Bharadwaj said.

Prakash explained that currently none of India’s social protection programs have a climate angle. These are general programs that protect people from different vulnerabilities. But given India’s diverse ecological zones, the impacts are different, and a one-size-fits-all social protection program will not work, and there is a need to reassess programs from a climate lens.

Bharadwaj said there was an urgent need for early warning systems for heat waves and drought, like India has for floods and cyclones. While India’s meteorological department declared heat waves and continued to notify people, it was not soon enough as it caught people off guard and affected their livelihoods, she said.

Joel C. Hicks