The demand for work under the rural employment scheme (MG-NREGS) continues to be at elevated levels compared with the pre-Covid period. This indicates that the pick-up in economic activities hasn’t created enough jobs in urban areas and that a section of migrant labourers who returned to their rural homes, has chosen to stay put.
The number of persons demanding work under the popular scheme hit a nadir in April 2020 (2 crore) but jumped in May (5.2 crore) immediately after the lock-down was eased; the demand peaked in June (6.3 crore), revealing how desperate the migrant laboures were for work during that period. However, even in February 2021, 3.83 crore persons demanded MG-NREGS work, 89 lakh persons more than in the same month last year, when the pandemic was yet to seriously impact the country.
In February 2019, 2.8 crore persons demanded the work, and throughout that year, the monthly demand was roughly at the same level.
Official data also show that the government regulating the supply of work – as measured in person days created – after being very liberal in a few months following the lock-down (see chart).
Generation of person days under MG-NREGS this year has already surpassed the highest tally in any year of 267.96 crore recorded in 2018-19 to touch at 357.66 crore as on March 6.
The Centre has been generous with the allocations for the MG-NREGS this year (The scheme’s budget outlay for the current fiscal year is Rs 1.11 lakh crore (revised estimate) compared with Rs 68,265 crore in 2019-20). An amount of Rs 98,417 crore has been spent under the scheme so far this year. For the 2021-22 fiscal, Rs 73,000 crore has been allocated under MG-NREGS.
An average of 48.51 days of employment has been provided to each beneficiary household under MG-NREGS so far this year, compared with of 48.4 days in the whole of last year. As part of its relief package under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, daily wage rate under MG-NREGS was hiked by `20 to `202, effective April 1, 2020.
The scheme’s mandate under the MGNREG Act, 2005, is to provide at least 100 days of ‘wage employment’ in a financial year to every rural household whose adult member volunteers to do unskilled manual work. This goal has never been met, but the achievement this year could be closer to the threshold.