Six months after lockdown lifted, no let-up in MNREGS demand

Over 40 lakh households have completed the full 100 days employment till date in the current financial year.

Six months after the easing of restrictions and phase-wise opening of the economy in view of the dip in coronavirus cases, the demand for work under the MNREGS continues to remain high, with nearly two crore or more households availing the rural job guarantee scheme every month.

In fact, the number of households availing the MNREGS in the last two months, December and January, is at the same level as in August and September last year, when coronavirus cases were at their peak.

In all, 7.17 crore households (10.51 crore individuals) had already availed the MNREGS till February 17 in the current financial year (April 1, 2020 onwards) — an all-time high for a financial year since the inception of the scheme in 2006.

With lakhs of migrant workers returning to their villages following the Covid-19 lockdown, the MNREGS has seen unprecedented demand for unskilled work. A monthly analysis shows that the demand peaked in June 2020, when 3.89 crore households — 80% higher than June 2019 — availed the scheme. The July 2020 figure of 2.75 crore was 83% higher than July 2019’s.

Long road back

THE MNREGS figures for the past two months are the same as when the coronavirus was its peak. The unflagging demand for the rural job scheme shows that unskilled labourers are struggling to find work despite the phased opening up of the economy.

In August, September and October 2020, the number of families that availed the MNREGS remained around two crore – 62% to 82% higher than the corresponding figures for the same months in the previous fiscal. Though the numbers fell in November, the decline was marginal (to 1.84 crore), and still 47% higher than those who signed up for the MNREGS in November 2019. December 2020 and January 2021 again saw a rise, to 2.08 crore (46.8% higher than December 2019) and 2.05 crore households (30.36% higher than January 2020) respectively.

While the lockdown lasted two months (April-May) after which the phased unlocking began, the numbers show that the MNREGS demand remains high.

The highest spurt in demand has been registered from states like Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Over 40 lakh households have completed the full 100 days employment till date in the current financial year.

As part of the economic package announced in response to Covid, the government has declared additional funding of Rs 40,000 crore for the MNREGS, over and above the Rs 61,500 crore allocated in the Union Budget 2020-21. With this hike, the MNREGS annual budget has crossed the Rs 1 lakh crore figure for the first time ever

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