45% annual funds for jobs, ration spent in 4 months
While the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) enabled 90 million households find work between April and July, subsidised rations under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) were provided to an average 720 million people every month during April-July, the data showsUpdated: Aug 10, 2020 04:12 IST
Close to 45% of Central funds meant for ensuring rural employment and subsidised rations, the two schemes that have helped deal with the economic distress caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, have been spent in just the first four months of the 2020-21 financial year, according to government data.
While the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) enabled 90 million households find work between April and July, subsidised rations under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) were provided to an average 720 million people every month during April-July, the data shows
The 68-day lockdown enforced on March 25, shutting all manufacturing and services units barring those deemed essential, triggered an exodus of migrant workers, mainly daily wage-earners, from the cities to their homes in the villages of states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
Demand for work and food under two of the world’s biggest social welfare programmes dropped in July after peaking in June, indicating that many of those who had left for their villages may be migrating back to the cities in search of work as lockdown restrictions are gradually eased.
Under MGNREGS, 24.2 million households were provided work in July, compared to 38.9 million in June (the highest ever monthly figure under the scheme month) and 33.1 million in May. At least one member of rural household is guaranteed 100 days of work a year under the programme.
“The employment in July was less because migrant workers returned to cities and labourers got engaged in sowing work that started in July after a good spell of rains,” said Nikhil Dey, a former member of MGNREGS’s Central Advisory Council and an activist working in rural areas of Rajasthan.
This year, the employment provided under the scheme is almost 50% more than in 2019 and 2018, he said. The number of people provided 100 days of employment during the period is almost three times the number in 2019.
Himanshu, an associate professor in the department of labour studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, who uses only his first name, said MGNREGS has provided a social security net to the rural poor, and this is amply clear from the data.
Similarly, the disbursement of subsidised rations peaked in June with 94% of the 800 million identified beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act receiving foodgrains. In July, the disbursement came down to 91%, which was about seven percentage points less than the number in June and July of 2019.
In terms of foodgrains disbursed, 2.8 million tonnes of rice and 21 million tonnes of wheat was given to the needy in June, which went down to 2.44 million tonnes of rice and 1.99 million tonnes of wheat in July. Still, the quantity was about 20% more compared to June and July 2019, the data showed.
The employment generated under MGNREGS and rations disbursed under NFSA in July was still higher than the pre-lockdown period. Officials expect the offtake to remain high under these two schemes and other rural development programmes until the end of this year.
Four months of Covid-19 have weighed heavily on the exchequer.
According to central government data, between April and July, around 45% of the Rs 1.01 lakh crore allocated for MNREGS and 44% of Rs. 1.15 lakh crore for NFSA this financial year had already been spent .
MGNREGS funds are given to states to pay wages to workers and buying raw material for asset creation. The NFSA money is given to the Food Corporation of India for supplying foodgrains from its stocks to different states for their Public Distribution System.
“We are left with very less money under MGNREGS for the current financial year,” said a rural development ministry official while briefing the Parliamentary standing committee on labour on Friday. At this pace, the official said, the NREGA funds would be exhausted by early December.
He, however, added that as NREGA is a demand-driven scheme, the Central government has to pay the states and the finance ministry has held out an assurance that there would be no shortage of funds. s
The RD ministry official said the government has been taking steps to transfer 100% wages to the bank accounts of the rural jobs guarantee scheme and emphasised the need for a on social audit of the public works built with the funds. “We have been able to plug leakages by weeding out fake jobs cards and it meant more people getting work for same amount of government expenditure,” he said.
He said that the Centre had sought a report on high MGNREGS expenditure from states such as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, which traditionally spend relatively less under the programme. The two states, along with Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, have generated the most work under the programme this year.