Champalal Bhil walked home to Rajsamand in Rajasthan, from Botad in Gujarat, once the lockdown began. An electrician who migrated to Gujarat with his family around two years ago, Bhil says he had stopped getting work there. Back in his Kaletra village, there is no work either, forcing him to look for MNREGS jobs, along with his wife who is expecting their third child.
The 25-year-old skilled worker who is now looking at MNREGS to survive is not alone. Says Rajasthan MNREGS Commissioner P C Kishan, “Of the migrant workers who have returned to the state, 60-70% are skilled. Because they have no options, most of them have turned to MNREGS, which is currently engaging more than 52 lakh labourers daily in the state, the highest in the country.”
Since April 17, when that number stood at 62,000, it has been rising daily. MNREGS workers earn a maximum of Rs 220 a day in Rajasthan, with payments made fortnightly.
Bhil says it is risky for his wife Chandra to work as a labourer at construction sites, lifting material like bricks, in her condition. However, with earnings dropping and with Bhil yet to find work even under the MNREGS, the family has little choice. “We had never done menial labour before as I know electrical work,” he says.
Chandra says Bhil earned around Rs 10,000 a month in Gujarat. “I had an MNREGS job card, but didn’t have to work.”
Data from the Rajasthan Labour Employment Exchange Department website show that, as of Friday, 13,13,678 migrant workers had returned to the state – most of them to districts such as Udaipur, Dungarpur, Rajsamand, Pali, Sriganganagar, Bhilwara, Barmer, Ajmer and Alwar. The demand for MNREGS is the most in districts that have seen the highest numbers returning.
Among those back in Dungarpur district, after seven years in Gandhinagar in Gujarat, is Ramesh Meena. In his early 20s, he fits marble tiles for a living there. “I earned Rs 600 every day, adding up to around Rs 18,000 a month. I came home before Holi and couldn’t go back as the lockdown was announced. Now I am working as an MNREGS labourer, earning around Rs 150-200 a day,” he says.
Rajendra Vijay, Project Director cum Join Secretary, Employment Guarantee Scheme, says payments are made in proportion to the work done.
On Monday, Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, who also holds the Rural Development and Panchayati Raj portfolio, said the highest numbers were enrolled under the MNREGS in Bhilwara (4.11 lakh), followed by Dungarpur (3.55 lakh), Banswara (3.50 lakh) and Ajmer (2.67 lakh).
Government data show that 38,843 migrants have returned to Bhilwara, 53,095 to Dungarpur, 7,956 to Banswara and 38,793 to Ajmer districts.
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