Announcing the second tranche of the coronavirus relief package, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Thursday that enrolment of workers under the MNREGS has increased 40-50% “compared to May last year”.
However, an analysis of data on the MNREGS public portal shows that both the number of people to avail of work under the flagship rural employment scheme and the number of days they were employed has fallen in this financial year starting April till now, compared to 2019-20.
This financial year, 1.06 crore households have got 13.59 crore person-days of employment under the MNREGS so far. As against this, 1.55 crore households had got 24.66 crore person-days of work in April 2019 alone. The respective numbers for April 2020 are just 89.66 lakh and 11.08 crore.
“The 40-50% increase the minister referred to is only for the past few days. Not much work could be taken up in April because the focus of everybody, including states, was on enforcing the lockdown. The actual ramping up is happening now, when economic activity too is being opened up,” a top official told The Indian Express.
Sitharaman also said that 14.62 crore person-days of work had been generated under the MNREGS till May 13. “The data in the public portal is only up to May 12. The minister’s figure is not only more recent, she has also mentioned that 2.33 crore wage seekers were offered work just yesterday (i.e. on May 13). The uptick in employment will be visible in the coming days,” the official said.
The main driver of the MNREGS employment will be the migrant workers returning back to their villages from cities and industrial centres. “States have been told to register liberally, as per the provisions of the MNREGS. Anyone seeking work under the programme should be given employment, irrespective of whether they have a job card or if the same is active or not,” the official added.
On paper, MNREGS guarantees 100 days of employment to adult members of any rural household that “demands” such employment. Critics allege this basic principle, of the programme being demand-driven and self-selecting, has rarely been implemented on the ground.
“The demand for work is going to be high, more so from the returning migrant labourers who need to find immediate employment. May and June are also lean months for agriculture, when the rabi crop has already been harvested and the monsoon not fully arrived,” the official pointed out.
According to the MNREGS public data portal, the number of person-days of work under the scheme in 2019-20 rose from 24.66 crore in April to 33.17 crore in May and 30.47 crore in June, before falling to 18.94 crore, 14.98 crore, 14.37 crore and 13.52 crore in the subsequent months coinciding with the kharif cropping season.
This time, MNREGS work demand is expected to go up, with this getting reflected in many inactive job cards turning active. Currently, out of the 13.74 crore MNREGS job cards issued, only 7.66 crore are “active”.
In 2019-20, 5.48 crore households were employed in MNREGS works. The average days of employment provided per household were 48.39, with only 40.61 lakh households completing 100 days of wage employment.
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