Despite a progressive relaxation in Covid curbs over the past six months to revive the economy, the latest official latest data show that more gram panchayats have logged work under the rural job guarantee scheme this financial year so far than over the last seven.
An analysis by The Indian Express of data available upto November 29 on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) portal shows the number of gram panchayats generating nil persondays of work during the current financial year at an eight-year low of 9,181 — only 3.42 per cent of the 2.68 lakh gram panchayats across the country.
This means that over 96 per cent of gram panchayats across the country have registered demand for work under NREGS from April till November-end, signalling that the rural economy is still struggling to recover from the pandemic-induced slump.
In contrast, during the last financial year, the number of gram panchayats generating nil persondays during the entire period was 10,371 or 3.91 per cent of the total 2.64 lakh gram panchayats.
The NREGS is a demand-based scheme and has emerged as a safety net during the pandemic for jobless migrant workers returning to their villages. When contacted, an official of the Rural Development Ministry, which manages the scheme, said the data show that “the Government has been able to provide employment in a record number of panchayats”.
The proportion of the gram panchayats with nil persondays was the highest (51,872; 18.97 per cent) in 2013-14, according to data available from that year. However, it has steadily gone down since: 2014-15 (47,886; 18.11 per cent), 2015-16 (30,041; 11.38 per cent), 2016-17 (22,309; 8.40 per cent), 2017-18 (15,749; 5.94 per cent) and 2018-19 (14,128; 5.33 per cent).
In all, the data show, over 6.5 crore households, covering 9.42 crore individuals, have availed NREGS till November 29 during the current financial year, which is an all-time high. The wage expenditure, too, has reached an all-time high of Rs 53,522 crore during this period.
Over 265.81 crore persondays have been generated since April till date during the current financial year, which is higher than 265.44 crore generated in the entire last financial year.
The rate of increase in demand in October is even sharper than that of September (65 per cent) and August (63 per cent) — 1.98 crore households availed the scheme in October, which is 82 per cent higher than 1.09 crore in the same month the last year. The latest spurt in demand for work under NREGS has come mainly from four states: Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
In October, the highest number of households that availed NREGS was highest in Tamil Nadu (42.78 lakh), followed by West Bengal (22.52 lakh), Uttar Pradesh (20 lakh) and Madhya Pradesh (15.19 lakh).
Tamil Nadu has reported the highest figure of households that availed the NREGS across the country, since July. On an average around 40 lakh families in the state have worked under NREGS in the last four months.
In the last two months, September and October, Tamil Nadu has been followed by West Bengal. These two states were not covered by the Centre’s 125-day Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan, launched in six states on June 20.x
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