The covid-19 pandemic has shown we, as a country, need a lot to improve. For any government, caring for the people of the country is the first job. The poor and needy must be at the top of the priority list to ensure they have enough to survive a situation like Covid-19. In the last few months, migrant workers took a significant hit due to the lockdown, followed by a substantial dip in the economy. However, the Government pulled up the sleeves at the right time and announced several packages to ensure relief for these workers.
As per reports, only 10% of the allocated funds for the Rural Development ministry under the MGNREGS scheme remain, with 4 months to go for the end of the current financial year.
Record high fund allocation and wage payments
When the workers moved back to their native places, the first thing that they needed was work. This is where MGNREGS came into action. The union government has allocated approximately Rs.85,000 crore for employment under the scheme, out of which Rs.77,000 crores have already been spent. Over Rs.55,000 crore were paid in the form of wages while the rest of the funds went to other costs, including material and skilled wages (over Rs.19,000 crore), administration costs (over Rs.2,400 crore), and so on. As per the reports generated by the Ministry of Rural Development of the Government of India, 98.15% of payments were made within 15 days which is much better compared to the previous years.
Guaranteed employment under MGNREGA
Passed in 2005, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) mandates the provision of at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. The main objectives of the Act include a minimum of 100 days of unskilled manual work as guaranteed employment in a financial year, ensuring social including, strengthening the livelihood of poor and strengthening Panchayati Raj institutions. The Act helps in rejuvenating the natural resource base of rural areas and creates a durable and productive rural asset base.
The surge in employment demand under MGNREGA during Covid-19 pandemic
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the lockdown, loss of employment, migration of workers back to native states, and other factors created a surge in employment demand under the MGNREGS. A total of 14.65 crore job cards were issued in the current financial year, out of which 14.06 crore workers are still active. 19.05% are among active workers from SC communities and 15.79% active workers from ST communities.
Surge in person-days generated compared to previous years
As per the ministry’s data, so far, 277 crore person-days have been generated under the scheme compared to 265.62 crore person-days in the last financial year. Since 2016-17, this financial year has generated the most person-days with over three months to go. There are some sections where this year lacked as well. In the financial year 2020-21, the percentage of women person-days created went down by approx 2% compared to the previous year.
There has been a sharp decline in the total number of households that have completed 100 days of wage employment. In this yes, over 20,97,000 households have completed the target compared to over 40 lakh households in the previous year and 52 lakh households in the year before. However, the inclusion of differently-abled persons was much better this year, with over 5,30,000 workers included compared to over 4,63,000 last year. According to a non-government group of NGOs named People Action for Employment Guarantee’s NREGA tracker, states like Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh have to dip into their own funds to ensure timely payments to the workers. The lowest number of households getting 100 days of employment was lowest in Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand.
Hindustan Times quoted Jharkhand’s rural development secretary Aradhana Patnaik as saying, “We have been stagnating at around 70 million person-days for the past three years. But, we have achieved 77.7 million person-days against the target of 80 million.”
More funds will be allocated when required
One of the major concerns that these stats depict is the lack of funds under MGNREGA for over three months left in the financial year. The Government has ensured that more funds will be allocated for the scheme whenever required, and the states will get their share on time. As of now, around 9.4% of funds are available out of the allocated funds. The demand for employment under the scheme is decreasing slowly as the workers are returning to the cities.
However, the government aims to provide them with employment at their native places to ensure they do not have to migrate for work. There are several schemes, such as Gareeb Kalyal Rojgar Abhiyan, under which the state and union government is generating jobs for unskilled and skilled workers. Under these schemes, the government is also providing training to the workers to upscale their income in the coming months.