Karnataka: MNREGA dependency on rise amid job crisis

Published on Apr 11, 2022 12:03 AM IST

While Karnataka and other states take pride in the rise of big-ticket investments that would help create hundreds of thousands of jobs, mostly white-collar, it is schemes like MNREGA that has become a source of daily bread for youngsters like Prashanth, who were among the hardest hit due to the pandemic-induced lockdowns

A Karnataka youth makes around <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>1650-1730 per week now with MNREGA as against <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>18,000 a month he made while working with the private company before the pandemic. (AP)
A Karnataka youth makes around 1650-1730 per week now with MNREGA as against 18,000 a month he made while working with the private company before the pandemic. (AP)
BySharan Poovanna, Bengaluru

Prashanth Bidanal, a 26-year-old in Karnataka’s Vijayapura district, completed his BE in mechanical engineering in 2018. He had started work in a private company in Bengaluru and completed about a year of his training.

Everything appeared to be going according to his plans he had made to escape from having to work in the fields and move up the economic ladder.

But the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in the beginning of 2020 sent his dreams crashing down as work on most industries halted. Unlike software jobs, there was no possibility of work from home and Prashanth now had to make a living in his village of Balabatti.

“I was in my training period and completed a year. Had I completed two years in the company, I would not have lost my job,” he says.

Prashanth has since tried to dabble with several jobs but settled on a more stable income until he can find his way back into the corporate sector. He worked for 78 days under the Union government-sponsored Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA).

“We just have 1-2 acres of land and there is just one crop in a year. There are bank loans and daily expenses that we have to take care of,” he said.

He makes around 1650-1730 per week now with MNREGA as against 18,000 a month he made while working with the private company before the pandemic.

While Karnataka and other states take pride in the rise of big-ticket investments that would help create hundreds of thousands of jobs, mostly white-collar, it is schemes like MNREGA that has become a source of daily bread for youngsters like Prashanth, who were among the hardest hit due to the pandemic-induced lockdowns.

The number of person days created in Karnataka has increased from 80.58 million in 2017-18 to 160.28 million in 2021-22, according to official data from the rural development and panchayat raj (RDPR) department.

The doubling of person days has been on account of higher demand from unemployed youngsters like Prashanth who would rather take up these jobs than wait for an uncertain period of time.

“The urban distress and lack of jobs in urban areas with SMEs (small and medium enterprises) faring badly have led to an increase in demand for jobs in rural areas,” LK Ateeq, the additional chief secretary of RDPR department told HT.

The number of people who have sought refuge in MNREGA too has nearly doubled in the last five years, data shows.

From 3.891 million persons taking up MNREGA jobs in 2017-18, the number has ballooned to 6.392 million in 2021-22, data shows.

Ateeq said lower wages in open markets across northern Karnataka, which houses some of the most backward districts in the country, also makes MNREGA more attractive as a steady source of income.

Somashekar, a PhD student from Kollegal, has been depending on MNREGA work to fuel his aim of completing his doctoral topic -- eco literacy, environment and attitude and ecological behaviour of secondary school teachers.

“I used to teach before and since the lockdown I started going with my mother for MNREGA work,” the 30-year-old said.

“They have increased pay from 290 to 309. For the poor and unemployed, it becomes very important and convenient to earn some income. There are times when farmers waiting for the rains have no work; it helps them to make a living too,” he added.

According to the 2011 census, agriculture supports 13.74 million workers in the state of which 23.61% are cultivators and 25.67% are agricultural labourers.

And a majority of people in agriculture belong to the small and marginal holding category which is less than two hectares, adding pressure on these lands and forcing people to migrate to urban areas in search of a livelihood and a better quality of life.

But the general economic slowdown and decline in new jobs being created have added to the urban distress which was further exacerbated by the pandemic-induced lockdown, forcing more people to return to their villages and hometowns.

“My friend referred me to get a job card just in case it would help,” said another youngster who is an MBA graduate.

“During Covid there were low salaries and the 18,000 I used to get was not enough to support all my commitments. I took up MNREGA job for some additional income,” said the 26-year-old, requesting not to be identified.

For thousands of highly qualified youngsters, the job security with MNREGA has been the key as salaries are paid within 7-15 days. But taking up these jobs under the union government scheme is just the way to a higher end as these youngsters look to make their way back into the organised workforce and give a flight to their dreams.

“My mom and I worked and saved around 20,000. Of this, I have started a course on Big Data for 12,000 through which I hope to get a software job. Then work from home will not be a problem,” Prashanth said.

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