The monthly demand for rural jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has grown exponentially in the current year after lakhs of workers, who were rendered jobless due to the lockdown owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, returned to their native villages.
An analysis of data shows that every year there is a spike in demand for MGNREGA jobs by individual households in May and June when the sowing of the kharif crops begins but this year the work demand has been twice more than the previous years and highest in the last five years.
A proportional increase was also recorded in the number of employment provided to the households that demanded work. However, despite the increase, the gap between the number of households listed as wanting to work under MGNREGA and the number who were provided work has been the highest in 2020-21 so far.
In May this year, of the 7,67,346 households who demanded work, 5,54,726 were provided work. The number stood at 4,13,298 and 3,45,592 respectively in May 2019. An analysis of the demand and supply of employment for May for the last five years shows that on an average the gap between the demand and the supply has been between 16-18% which stood at a record high 29% this year. This means one in three got work under the scheme post lockdown.
Given the high volume of demand, in the first quarter of the financial year, 63.51 per cent of the total fund allocated under MGNREGA by the Gujarat government and of the funds released by the Centre is already utilised. According to the official MGNREGA website, in 2019, 114.97 % of the funds from the state and Centre combined were utilised.
The approved labour budget which is the anticipated demand for unskilled manual work has been steadily reducing since 2017-18 when the approved labour budget was Rs 500 lakh which dropped to Rs 245 lakh in 2018-19 and further to Rs 400 lakh which is the same as the current financial year.
So far this year, 156.35 lakh person days have been generated, which stood at 353.71 lakhs in 2019-20 and 419.61 lakh in 2018-19.
Throwing light on why the labour budget has gradually reduced, Special Commissioner under the Commissionerate of Rural Development, Dev Chaudhary said, “The budget allocation depends on the demand of work under MGNREGA in the previous financial year. This is why the proposed and approved labour budget has been Rs 400 lakh for the last two consecutive years. A revised budget can be put forth in the next session if needed. For this year with the unprecedented demand, we might demand Rs 200-300 lakh more for the labour budget.”
The number of works undertaken as of June stands at 21,00,000 which includes new and spill over from last year.
“There was an unprecedented influx of people back to their native villages after the lockdown was imposed. For everyone who returned to their villages, MGNREGA was their only solace with no other option or source of income in sight. This is why the demand increased manifold. But the administrations were not prepared… The labour budget allocated for this financial year had not considered this unforeseen spike in the labour force seeking jobs under MGNREGA which is why the gap widened,” said Govind Desai of Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), which works in various villages of Gujarat and also helps villagers avail employment benefits under MGNREGA.
Chaudhary explained the bigger gap between the demand and supply as more of a “technical constraint” and said that the state was determined to provide work to each person who has demanded work.
“There are two reasons why this gap arises. One, at times people apply for the job and do not turn up which is why the muster roll counts as zero. Second even after the work is provided the data is reflected at least after seven days which contributes to the lag. From our level we have been very determined to provide work to every household which demands work. The number of projects has increased as well. And we have asked all the districts to propose a thorough budget at the start of the month itself. After a person or household applies for the job, it usually takes 10 days to provide them employment, we have also asked the districts to provide them work within seven days at the least now,” Chaudhary said.
In terms of individual districts, the work demanded has increased more than twice in majority of the districts, with Dahod recording the highest demand and as well employment provided. However in terms of percentage of employment provided as against the employment demanded, Narmada recorded the highest employment rate at 91%, while Vadodara recorded the least at 28.48%.
Vadodara had every year for the month of May recorded an employment rate of 70% and above. As compared to just 2,201 households demanding work in May 2019 and 1,580 households being offered employment, 12,234 demanded work in May 2020, of which only 3,484 households were offered employment.
For Narmada, 57,206 households demanded work in May 2020 of which 52,360 households were provided work. Three other districts namely Mehsana, Morbi and Porbandar have also recorded an employment rate of below 50% at 45.18 %, 41.25% and 47% respectively.
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