Govt made record payments under MGNREGS this year
In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Centre has made a record payment to workers enrolled in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in the first eight months of the current financial year, leaving it with just 10% of he money allocated for it to spend in the final four months.
The rural development ministry, which administers the world’s biggest job guarantee scheme, was allocated Rs 84,900 crore in two instalments to fund MGNREGS in the year ending in March 2021. Of this amount, it had spent Rs 76,800 crore in April-November. The amount spent in the same period last year was about Rs 50,000 crore.
In fact, the ministry has spent 12 percentage points more than the allocation made in the budget and has the highest expenditure rate among all Central government ministries, shows the Controller General of Accounts website. As the expenditure report shows, a finance ministry official privy to the matter said, there would be no shortage of funds for MGNREGS and additional money will be provided to it as and when needed.
Demand for work under the scheme, which mandates at least 100 days of manual work a year for at least one member of every rural household, surged in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and the following lockdown, which triggered an exodus of workers from the cities to the countryside.
A MGNREGS tracker released on Thursday said the expenditure on the scheme was on account of 10 million more households getting work this year (until November), a 243% increase in person days (work) generated and higher wages paid to workers as compared to the previous year.
“The total active job cards this year was 90.2 million and of them 83.09% sought work,” the tracker prepared by People Action for Employment Guarantee, a network of NGOs, said.
Although the demand peaked in May, it slowed in the subsequent months as workers from poorer states such as Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand started returning to cities. The tracker said the average work provided to individual households was less than in the previous years.
Till November end, an average household got 41.59 days of work as compared to 48.4 in 2019-20 and 50.88 in 2018-19. Only 1.9 million households got work for the 100 days mandated under the law compared to 4.06 million last year. Of them, 210,000 were in Rajasthan and 350,000 in Andhra Pradesh, which also dipped into their own funds to ensure NREGA workers received money on time. The number of households getting 100 days of work was the lowest in Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu among all Indian states.
The report also said that around 13% of the 75 million households who demanded work under the scheme got none. “The data shows that there was surge for NREGA work demand due to pandemic and the government failed to meet the demand,” the report said.
Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand were the two states where one-fourth of households demanding work were not engaged in manual work even for a single day, the data showed. Rajasthan and West Bengal did well to keep the unmet demand lower than the national average.
Jharkhand’s rural development secretary Aradhana Patnaik said the state was one of the best performers. “We have been stagnating around 70 million man days for past three years. But, we have achieved 77.7 million man days against the target of 80 million,” she said.
Rajasthan’s MGNREGS commissioner PC Kishan said the scheme’s implementation in the state is demand-driven, hence unmet demand was less and employment provided higher than the previous years.
Nikhil Dey, a former member of the MGNREGS Council, said, “We would have been happy if more people would have got at least 100 days of work.... That did not happen and it proves government inefficiency.”