The MGNREGA has created 153.16 crore person-days of employment during April-July. Not only is this way higher than the 107.24 person-days for the corresponding four months of last fiscal, but also significant compared to the 267.96 crore and 265.35 crore person-days generated in the whole of 2018-19 and 2019-20, respectively. Moreover, it is necessary to note that April was a washout month.
With the focus of administrations then on enforcing the lockdown, the 11.93 crore person-days of employment was less than half of that during the same month last year. The real ramp-up happened in May (50.88 crore person-days) and June (61.44 crore, an all-time-high), before falling to 28.91 crore in July.
In short, MGNREGA has done what it is expected to do even in normal times: Provide work in rural areas during the peak summer months when the rabi crop would already have been harvested and kharif plantings are still to gather pace. The current times have, of course, been far from normal. MGNREGA is intended primarily as an employment scheme for unskilled rural manual workers. This time round, though, it was supposed to also cater to migrant labourers returning to their villages. While there are reports of even engineers and graduates enrolling for work, it’s clear how widespread this phenomenon is. Also, MGNREGA guarantees only 100 days of work to all adult members of a rural household at wage rates ranging from as low as Rs 190 in Chhattisgarh to Rs 309 in Haryana. Clearly, it cannot substitute for what the returning migrant labourers were earning as drivers, electricians, plumbers, masons and carpenters or even as less-skilled security guards and loaders in factories. It translates into temporary relief at best.
Overall, the Modi government has done the right thing by stepping up allocations both for MGNREGA and PDS grains. But in the end, MGNREGA cannot be any more than a scheme that provides employment during the agricultural lean season for landless labourers and marginal cultivators. Now, the focus has to be on getting people, including the migrant labourers, back to normal work.