In light of drought-like conditions in many districts of western Odisha and distress migration of labourers appearing imminent, the government is trying to improve the average number of days of employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) — from 38 to 65 days. The government has decided to mobilise all active job-card holders to form informal groups, which will be called ‘Shramik Sangh’. There will be one such group for every 50 beneficiaries in each revenue village.The move is aimed at ensuring job for each active card holder through close coordination with government officials at the block level. One member in each group will be assigned as a ‘mate’ and will be responsible for providing jobs to others in the sangh.“With a mandate to arrest migration and ensure effective convergence for sustainable livelihood development… we must relook at strategy for implementation [of MGNREGS]. We need to focus on active job-card holders and provide them at minimum average 70 days of wage employment,” wrote Panchayati Raj secretary D.K. Singh in a letter to all collectors.Mr. Singh said that work participation needs to be raised from 33% to 65%, and average number of days of employment from 38 days to 65 days. All collectors have been asked to ensure formation of Shramik Sangh, selection of mates, their training and meeting with government officials between August 20 and 25.Welfare schemesThe government has also announced that it will include card holders in welfare schemes and skill upgradation schemes; and extend insurance coverage and other economic benefits to them.In the past few years, the government has floated several strategies to arrest distress migration from Odisha’s poverty-stricken districts. A few years ago, entitlement of employment was increased from 100 days to 150 in migration-prone blocks. “While the entitlement of employment is 100-150 days, the government is now focusing only on 70 days. The scheme says whoever demands unskilled work will be provided. There cannot be a selective target. There is also no strategy to end late payment of wages. Delay in payment is one of the key factors in people distancing themselves from MGNREGS,” said Umi Daniel, an expert on migration issues.“To arrest seasonal migration, there should be seasonal targets for providing employment during lean period such as drought, which is looming over Odisha,” he said, adding that even 10 years after MGNREGS, Odisha was struggling to provide average 38 days of employment.