As the economy plunged into recession amid the coronavirus pandemic, the number of workers who availed the National Rural Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) has crossed the 10-crore mark for the first time, marking an unprecedented demand for the rural job scheme.
Latest data available on the NREGS portal shows that till January 10 in the current financial year, over 10 crore individuals across the country worked under the scheme, which is 21 per cent higher than the 7.89 crore figure for 2019-2020. With two months still remaining in the current financial year, the number is expected to go up further.
The 10-crore number is the highest since the inception of the scheme in 2006 – the previous high was in 2011-12, when 8.2 crore individuals availed the scheme.
West Bengal has seen the highest numbers this financial year, with 1.07 crore individuals availing the scheme until January 10. The state is followed by Uttar Pradesh (1.06 crore), Rajasthan (99.25 lakh), Madhya Pradesh (91.62 lakh), Andhra Pradesh (77.57 lakh) and Tamil Nadu (75.37 lakh).
A safety net
The unprecedented jump in demand for unskilled work under NREGS is a pointer to the economic distress in rural areas. In wake of the pandemic, the scheme has emerged as a safety net for crores of unskilled workers, particularly migrant workers.
Under MGNREGS, every rural household, whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work, is entitled to at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year.
The number of households availing the scheme too has reached an all-time high of 6.87 crore until January 10 this financial year. In 2019-2020, 5.48 crore households availed the scheme.
The current financial year has also seen an unprecedented increase in the number of new job cards issued under the scheme. So far, 1.49 crore households (or 2.68 crore individuals) have got new job cards — more than double of the 68.26 lakh households (1.27 lakh individuals) in all of 2019-20.
The number of person-days generated so far this financial year too has reached an all-time high of 302 crore, up from 265 crore person-days last financial year.
The expenditure under NREGA has reached an all-time high, with Rs 87,520 crore of the Rs-1-lakh crore allocated to the scheme being spent.
As part of the economic package announced in the response to Covid, the government declared an additional funding of Rs 40,000 crore for NREGS, over and above the Rs 61,500 crore allocated in the Union Budget 2020-21. With this hike, the NREGS budget has crossed the Rs 1 lakh crore figure for the first time ever.
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