Rise in NREGS demand shows return to cities delayed
The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and slow economic recovery has seen high participation in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), the country’s flagship welfare programme, resulting in a temporary shortage of funds.
Between April and October this year, more than 60.1 million households have worked in the manual jobs scheme, widely regarded as the last resort of the rural poor.
More than 85.6 million individuals have participated so far over this period, government data shows. These are higher employment rates than in three financial years between 2017 and 2019.
In the financial year ended March 2021, which saw a stringent nationwide lockdown and disruptions due to Covid-19, 75.5 million households and 111.9 million people demanded work under the scheme.
With the onset of winter, more people are likely to want work under the programme as November to March is the preferred time for construction-related work. The central government is “committed to release funds for wage and material payments” for proper implementation of the demand-driven scheme that gives a guarantee for jobs or compensation in case jobs could not be given, the rural development ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
The government admitted it has less than ₹9,000 crore left in its MGNREGS kitty, but indicated that the scheme would get more funds in supplementary demand for grants, or additional budget in the upcoming winter session of the Parliament.
“Whenever additional fund is required, the Ministry of Finance is requested to provide the funds. In the previous financial year, the Ministry of Finance allocated ₹50,000 crore additional funds for the scheme over and above that of BE (budget estimate),” the statement said.
The Centre underlined that the rush for work has so far generated more than 222 crore person-days as employment has been offered to 99.63% of those who sought jobs.
After the massive funding of MGNREGS last financial year, the prediction for this year was that demand would decline as economic activities resume and people return to cities for employment, an official said on condition of anonymity.
“But the second wave and infiltration of Covid-19 in rural belts prevented many people from leaving their villages,” the official said. “Also, the slow pace of economic recovery prompted many people to opt for MGNREGS job that provides low wage rate but a guaranteed income for up to 100 days,” the official added.