With sowing for the kharif season having taken off across Maharashtra at a very good speed, aided along by a plentiful monsoon so far, a large percentage of the state’s rural labour has been absorbed by agriculture, indicated by rapidly dipping numbers of workers present at job sites under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
While 7.59 lakh unskilled labourers were present at job sites on June 7 at the peak of a record demand for work under MGNREGA, attendance of labourers at these job sites on June 30 was 2.74 lakh, after dipping by two-thirds to 2.5 lakh on June 26, a rapid slide witnessed in about three weeks.
Further indicative of the anticipation of a good kharif season, the number of workers at job sites is lower than the corresponding numbers for last year – the average number of workers during the week ending June 29, 2019, was 3,52,676.
From April, MGNREGA work sites had recorded a sharp rise in number of workers as labourers returned home from Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and other cities. From 19,509 workers on April 4, attendance of unskilled labourers at job sites rose to 3,81,930 a month later, on May 6. The numbers continued to rise sharply till the first week of June. On May 30, there were 7,23,930 labourers at various sites, and on June 7, the figure was 7,59,852.
Following the arrival of the south-west monsoon, those numbers showed a rapidly declining trend. The numbers fell to 4,86,130 workers on June 17 and further to 2,53,867 on June 25, the lowest this season, amid heavy rains in several parts of rural Maharashtra and as the favoured period for sowing drew to a close.
In several districts, between June 17 and 25, the number of labourers at MGNREGA sites fell drastically – from 18,799 to 2,717 in Beed; from 55,365 to 11,447 in Bhandara; from 84,193 to 28,378 in Gondia; and from 43,601 to 20,321 in Nandurbar.
Simultaneously, district collectors have also reported a gradual trend of workers heading back to Mumbai, Pune, Nashik and Nagpur as industries resume operations.
State officials said expenditure on MGNREGA for the first quarter of 2020-21 was Rs 500.16 crore, including Rs 409.47 crore on unskilled labour. In 2019-20, the overall expenditure on the scheme in Maharashtra was Rs 1,825.68 crore. More than 99 per cent of payments have been done within the stipulated time.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Principal Secretary (Water Conservation and Employment Guarantee Scheme) Nand Kumar said, “A timely onset of monsoon has helped kharif sowing operations. This has enabled the farm sector to absorb a lot of rural labourers.”
He added, “The state has so far generated 2.04 crore mandays of paid employment under MGNREGA. We have completed 55,949 works, while another 5.13 lakh are in progress.”
Data from the MGNREGA public portal shows that demand for work has dipped too, from 15.46 lakh in May to 12.18 lakh in June. What’s more, the June 2020 demand for work is only marginally higher than the demand for work in June 2019 (11.29 lakh), despite the largescale reverse migration into rural Maharashtra, indicating that the timely arrival of the monsoon and plentiful rains led to a quick absorption of rural labour on farms.
Recently, Maharashtra’s outgoing chief secretary and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s new principal advisor, Ajoy Mehta, had told The Indian Express that the government was expecting the good monsoon to help agriculture absorb a large amount of rural labour. He had said the state would soon initiate a focused boost to rural employment through processing of horticultural produce.
Officials expect that a fluctuating demand for work under the job guarantee programme may continue during the kharif season. As sowing ends, the demand for farm labour will slowly shrink too.
Also, of Maharashtra’s 28,640 gram panchayats, there are currently MGNREGA sites in or around 10,855 villages (38 per cent). There are 5,840 villages where work generated under the scheme continues to be ‘zero’ person days.
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