At least two states have seen a sharp jump in MNREGS numbers in the past few days amidst the extended lockdown.
Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, who also holds the Rural Development and Panchayati Raj portfolio, told The Indian Express on Wednesday that in six days, the numbers in the state had gone up from 62,000 on April 17 to 6.08 lakh on April 22.
In Maharashtra, MNREGS Commissioner Ranga Nayak reported an increase in the rural employment guarantee scheme numbers from about 40,000 on April 12 to over 1 lakh now.
Pilot said the surge had been particularly sharp since some restrictions due to the coronavirus spread were eased on Monday. “We started planning from April 17, before the modified lockdown started, to ensure that maximum work was generated under the MNREGS. Within days, we have registered an increase of 10 times with the current figure of engaged workers being 6.08 lakh.”
Government data show that the total number of MNREGS labourers rose from 62,000 on April 17, to 2 lakh, 2.5 lakh, 3 lakh, 4.5 lakh and 6.08 lakh over successive days. Pilot said the only way to revive the rural economy now was through MNREGS wages. “We have made more than 99% of due payments. Our emphasis is to give them maximum individual work, rather than community work, to ensure social distancing,” he said.
On Wednesday, he inspected MNREGS work sites falling under the jurisdiction of the Chaksu panchayat samiti near Jaipur, and instructed officials to ensure social distancing, medical kits and soaps for labourers. “Even if a person is given work for constructing his own home under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana under the MNREGS, that individual will be paid. Even for community works, we have made sure that the labour force is spread out,” he said.
Maharashtra MNREGS Commissioner Nayak told The Indian Express they had started “a very aggressive campaign to provide works to the needy, affected by the coronavirus pandemic”. He said they were also focusing on individual works, as large gatherings are not allowed. “But about 20% of the attendance can be attributed to community works as well,” he said.
Nayak said they had finalised about 35,000 individual works under 216 categories like digging of wells at farms, making cattle sheds, horticulture work and construction of homes under the Awas Yojana. “I have asked the staff to personally approach the beneficiaries, instead of the other way round, to pro-actively speed up works.”
Maharashtra has also issued orders to publish the list of these beneficiaries at government offices such as that of the collector, zila parishad CEO, sub-divisional officers, tehsildars and gram panchayats. The state is also trying to clear rejected online wage transactions on a “war footing”, Nayak said.
Rajasthan MNREGS Commissioner P C Kishan said the demand for the scheme is expected to increase in the next few months, with even relatively affluent villagers seeking jobs after loss of income during the lockdown.
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