AS THE economy slows down, the demand for work by households under the MGNREGA programme surged to a nine-year high in 2019-20.
According to figures uploaded on the MGNREGA official portal, 5.47 crore households sought MGNREGA works, the highest since 2010-11, when the number was 5.5 crore. It was 5.27 crore in 2018-19.
More individuals too worked under MGNREGA in 2019-20, with 7.86 crore employed at various sites across the country. This is the highest since 2012-13, when 7.97 crore individuals worked under this programme. The national job guarantee scheme was launched in 2006 from 200 districts.
The new MGNREGA figures coincide with the sharp fall in GDP growth rate to 5 per cent in 2019-20, the lowest in a decade.
Other data shows that the number of gram panchayats not recording any MGNREGA expenditure has also declined. It stood at 9,144 in the last financial year, from lower than 10,978 in 2018-19. The number of such panchayats was 11,789 in 2017-18; 19,451 in 2016-17; 39,469 in 2015-16; and 39,531 in 2014-15.
There are a total 2.63 lakh gram panchayats in India. The decline in the number of panchayats with zero expenditure shows that more and more panchayats are using MGNREGA to provide unskilled work to the unemployed.
This is despite the fact that wages have been flattening. In 2019-20, average MGNREGA wage per day per person was Rs 182.09, barely Rs 3 higher than Rs 179.13 in 2018-19. The average cost per day per person under the MGNREGA (on materials etc), meanwhile, increased to Rs 263.3 in 2019-20 from Rs 247.19 in 2018-19.
The data also showed that 263.73 crore person days were generated during 2019-20, slightly lower than 267.96 crore in 2018-19 but significantly higher than the total person days generated during each financial year from 2012-13 to 2017-18.
These are provisional figures, and the final data will be settled by the end of April. Going by the daily person days’ work generation, the final numbers are likely to only increase.
“In all likelihood, the person days generated will cross last year’s tally by a decent number,” said a source in the Ministry of Rural Development. The disruption caused by the coronavirus lockdown, however, may impact the final figure of the person days generated in March 2020. Sources further said that during 2019-20, the Centre released Rs 72,162.13 crore for the MGNREGA, the highest ever amount, and substantially higher than the Rs 62,125.07 crore released in 2018-19.
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