Welfare mainstay MGNREGS off to slow start this fiscal year
At a time when millions of migrant workers who have returned home to the hinterland are looking towards it for a livelihood, the government’s flagship rural jobs programme has got off to a slow start in the new financial year, government data show, amid the lockdown and social distancing norms put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
Less than 57% of the people who sought work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) have received jobs under the programme, which offers 100 days of manual work a year to at least one member of every rural household.
According to the official data, 50.81 million people have sought jobs under MGNREGS since the financial year started on April 1; until May 27, 28.80 million received work, generating 315 million person days of employment. In all of last year, 84.5% of workers who demanded jobs were provided work.
Economist Himanshu, an associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the figures reflected a slow start to the MGNREGS.
“The underlying reasons for such a low rate of jobs being provided are the initial phase of the lockdown that had stalled all activities and many states had been late in identifying works for beneficiaries. And even when the work started the health norms and social distancing order had created some restrictions,” Himanshu said.
MGNREGS had its budget raised byRs 40,000 crore under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (self-reliant India programme) of the Narendra Modi government, taking total funding for the programme this financial year to more thanRs 1 trillion, as the Centre sought to meet ad-itional demand for rural jobs.
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Since the lockdown for the coronavirus disease started on March 25, millions of migrant workers, mainly daily-wage earners who found themselves without a job, have left the big cities and headed home to their villages in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal. Uttar Pradesh alone claims to have received 2.6 million returning workers.
Many of them have been looking to MGNREGS as they seek to tide over the Covid-19 crisis. Rural development ministry officials maintained that job allocations under the scheme, the only welfare programme with a budget in excess ofRs 1 trillion, would gain momentum. They expect MGNREGS to emerge as the backbone of the rural economy amid the pandemic.
Three figures are key to assessing the impact of MGNREGS on the ground: jobs demanded by beneficiaries, jobs offered by the states and jobs provided to workers.
While 50.8 million people have demanded jobs in the first two months of the financial year, the states have offered work to 50.1 million, out of whom only 28.8 million have been actually provided jobs. According to experts, this vast difference between the number of jobs offered and actually provided underlines the role of the states.
“The states always show very high levels of job offers to avoid paying compensation as per the law. But the impact of MGNREGS actually depends on how many people finally get work,” said Himanshu.
With the harvest season coming to an end and the lean agriculture season setting in plus millions of returning migrants seeking jobs, the pressure on MGNREGS for work allocation is expected to grow. April-July is the peak season for MGNREGS
Rural development ministry officials also said that until May 22,Rs 33,300 crore — one-third of the revised budget for the full year — had already been sanctioned, out of whichRs 24,500 crore had been released to the states.