Unused rural funds hint migrants may be back at work in cities
With just one month left for the plan to wind up, the Narendra Modi government has so far spent just 56% of the funds on a special initiative to provide employment to migrant workers who returned home during the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic and the lockdown enforced to prevent its spread.
The Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan was launched on June 20 by Prime Minister Modi from Bihar’s Telihar village. Under the scheme, works worth Rs 50,000 crore were to be provided to the migrant workers for 125 days — a little more than four months. An analysis of government data shows that at the end of 95 days, only Rs 28,138 crore has been spent.
Official data also shows that 300.69 million days of work — in other words, just about 10% of the total Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) mandays for this year — have been generated through the special intervention.
As millions of migrant workers started returning home after the lockdown was enforced on March 25 amid a jobs crunch in the big cities, the government devised the Rozgar Abhiyan to provide jobs to skilled and unskilled workers. The Centre announced that a “focused campaign” will run in mission mode for 125 days across 116 districts in six states.
“In 125 days, nearly 25 schemes will be brought together to reach saturation. These will include Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna, Gram Sadak Yojna, Jal Jeevan Yojna, PM Gram Sadak Yojna, etc,” finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said.
As the programme enters its last month, Indian Railways emerged as the top employer, generating one in every 3 mandays under the scheme.
“The Indian Railways has generated 10,66,246 mandays of work till 25 September 2020 under Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyaan in 6 States viz. Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh,” the ministry stated on Sunday.
Construction of rural houses has driven maximum number of projects with 377,000 units, followed by 121,000 water conservation and water harvesting works and 92,158 projects of laying fiber optic cables under Bharat Net.
Former rural development secretary Jugal Kishore Mohapatra is not worried about the slow pace of expenditure. “If you see, for the last few months, the demand for jobs under MGNREGS has dipped. Since a large number of programmes under the this rozgar scheme comes under MGNREGS, the demand under this programme must have slowed down.”
“But I think the government must continue with the scheme beyond its stipulated 125 days as more people are expected to demand work after the agricultural season is over,” said Mohapatra.
The government didn’t earmark any extra funds, but front-loaded 25 existing schemes to back the project that aimed to boost livelihood opportunities in rural India and also “create durable infrastructure along with boosting employment opportunities”.
The programme has covered 116 districts across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha. All these districts received more than 25,000 migrant workers each who returned home during the lockdown.
“We are pooling resources from these 25 projects. There are some works which may get affected by monsoon such as laying of roads. But we want to front load the money allotted for these for those 116 districts and ensure that all those workers in these districts are given employment,” said Sitharaman.
Some experts, however, said the trend did not necessarily mean the workers were back to gainful employment in cities.
“If the government is unable to spend its money quickly, its is definitely a problem. It basically means people are seeking jobs but there is a problem the way money is being spent or allocated in projects. I don’t agree with the argument that migrant labourers are returning to cities in large numbers and therefore the demand for this Rozgar Yojna has slumped. Remember, the first quarter GDP [gross domestic product] was minus 23.9%, so where is the revival?” said Himanshu, associate professor with Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).