THE poll-bound states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand have recorded a significant increase in job numbers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). The three states have not only exceeded the projections made for the current financial year, but have also surpassed the jobs generated over the same period last fiscal, which was officially a drought year.
MGNREGA, which provides 100 days of wage employment in rural India per year, usually records the highest numbers during drought as it offers an alternative to loss of agricultural income.
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Of all the states, Punjab recorded the highest increase over the projected work for the current fiscal until December this year. While the projected person-days of employment under MGNREGA was about 1.01 crore, the state has generated 1.28 crore person-days so far.
Punjab usually records lower demand for MGNREGA work, since the well-irrigated, agriculture-rich state is not dependent on being rain-fed, thereby easily absorbing much of the labour demand. Last fiscal, Punjab saw only 0.96 crore person-days of employment generated under MGNREGA from April to December 2015.
“Since it is an election year, there were strict instructions to all district administrators to push up the MGNREGA figures. A lot of work was taken up this year, and the labour component of MGNREGA was dovetailed to these works, so that ample work supply is ensured.
Moreover, officials went to the field to look for any kind of untapped demand,” said a senior district-level official from Punjab.
In Uttar Pradesh, the high demand from drought-hit regions like Bundelkhand added to the work generated. The condition improved after the onset of monsoon. This was one reason why the job projection for this fiscal was slightly lower than last fiscal. Yet, work generated was much higher at 13 crore person-days as compared to 11 crore last fiscal (April to December).
“This being an election year, the UP government has effectively used MGNREGA funds for providing relief in the drought-affected Bundelkhand region. The same is not the case when it comes to Madhya Pradesh,” said Yogendra Yadav, leader of Swaraj Abhiyan, which is a petitioner in the case relating to MGNREGA implementation in the Supreme Court.
Madhya Pradesh, in contrast, has managed to achieve just over half of its projected work generation under the scheme so far.
Uttarakhand is also ahead of its projected work generation. At 1.62 crore person-days from April-December 2016, the state has exceeded the previous year’s figure of 1.24 crore person-days for the corresponding months.
A similar trend was recorded in the run-up to April-May 2016, when the then poll-bound states of West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala showed high MGNREGA numbers.
Besides the poll factor, the twin impact of drought-like conditions prior to monsoon this year and reverse migration owing to demonetisation over the last two months has ensured that a few other states like West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Telangana and Tamil Nadu also recorded an increase over their projected work generation.
However in most of these cases, the person-days generated have not necessarily surpassed the figures of the previous drought-hit year, as is the case in the poll-bound states.