Demand for work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) continues to be robust in the first five months of the current fiscal year (2021-22, or FY22).
The numbers are still lower than 2020-21, which was an unusual year for MGNREGA work demand due to the nationwide lockdown and unprecedented migration of workers from cities to villages. But compared to the pre-pandemic 2019-20 (FY20), experts say demand still shows a spike. This, claim activists, is a strong signal.
Even though the economic situation might have improved in rural areas, it still hasn’t returned to its normal levels. A large number of casual workers are still looking for temporary jobs under schemes like MGNREGA.
Which brings the question of more funding to the fore. Of the budgeted Rs 73,000 crore for the Centre’s flagship scheme, around Rs 55,915.31 crore (approximately 77 per cent of the budget) has already been exhausted in the first five months of FY22.
Some reports say an additional Rs 25,000 crore might be required in the current fiscal year to meet work demand requirement, in addition to the budgeted Rs 73,000 crore.
The data sourced from the MGNREGA website shows that in July, around 31.9 million households demanded work under the scheme – 0.25 per cent less than last year, but almost 74 per cent more than the same month in 2019.
Similarly, in August, around 24.36 million households had demanded work under MGNREGA – 0.21 per cent more than the previous year, but nearly 68 per cent more than the same month in 2019.
In terms of person-days of work generated, the data from the website shows that even though work generated – compared to 2020 – has been less from May to August, it has been significantly higher, compared to the same months in 2019.
“It is obvious that the MGNREGA work demands are significantly higher than FY20. However, the budget allocated for the scheme is the same as FY20. This is clearly an indication that the Centre needs to get its numbers right and allocate more funds for the smooth running of the scheme. Also, it is important to note that there has been a significant delay in the release of wages this year, which could have slowed the processes at the grassroots level. In reality, actual demand could be significantly more than what it shows on the MGNREGA website. There is potential for greater employment generation,” says Debmalya Nandi, social worker and member of MGNREGA Sangharsh Morcha.
He has seen inadequate work being sanctioned by different state gram panchayats and workers not being engaged sufficiently.
“The official data also shows that the leaks have been high (according to some media reports) in the past four years. While it could be concluded that the government needs to allocate more budget for MGNREGA, it also needs to streamline payments. It has to put in place stringent systems locally to ensure work demands are accepted by officials,” says Nandi, adding that the government can try out a Kaam Maango Abhiyan (a nationwide work demand campaign) and focus on large-scale employment generation after the monsoon to alleviate rural distress.