Demand for work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) fell to an all-time low in April, with only 1.28 crore households seeking work amid the nationwide lockdown.
However, the demand has been rising since then. In May, 3.61 crore rural households had registered for work. In June, 4.38 crore households sought work against 2.56 crore in the same month last year, up 70 per cent.
In States with large reverse migrant populations, the demand for MGNREGA work was even higher — in Uttar Pradesh, 74.94 lakh households sought work, up 230 per cent year-on-year; in Bihar, it was 26.2 lakh households, up 94 per cent YoY.
So far in FY21, 101.4 crore person-days of work has been generated; this is the highest since 2013, the year from which data is available on the MGNREGA portal.
While the number of person-days of employment generated is encouraging, not everybody who applied for work landed some.
Over the past three months, 1.12 crore people have registered for MGNREGA work in Uttar Pradesh, but one in three, that is, about 37 lakh people, were not given employment.
In Bihar, of the 41 lakh people who sought work, 11.6 lakh people didn’t get any. In Madhya Pradesh, 25 per cent of those who registered for MGNREGA work are yet to get employment. Across the country, so far this fiscal, of the 8.17 crore people who registered for work under MGNREGA, about 1.8 crore people are yet to get jobs.
These numbers, from the MGNREGA portal, are under-stated, says Nikhil Dey, founding member of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, an NGO working closely on MGNREGA. He says that in States, including Bihar, not all applications for work are being accepted.
The monsoon is unlikely to impede MGNREGA work, adds Dey. “During rains MGNREGA workers can be used to perform flood control and relief work, water harvesting as well as post-flood cleaning. There is need for infrastructure in villages in the areas of sanitation, public roads, services, etc., too, and employment can be generated,” he points out.
Challenges that remain
The average days of employment provided per household in FY20 was 48.39. This fiscal, with many families in dire need of employment, 100 days of work may be reached soon.
In Rajasthan, for instance, already 2.2 lakh households have completed 60 days or more. About 1.5 lakh households in UP and 83,408 in Bihar have finished 60 days or more. So, it is essential that the guaranteed days of employment under MNREGA be increased to 200, says Dey.
Wage payment has been mostly immediate. Delayed payment, i.e., transactions where the payment was delayed beyond 15 days, stood at just 0.1 per cent in Rajasthan, 0.3 per cent in UP and 2 per cent in Bihar, the portal data reveal.
Instances of delayed payments have come down due to higher allocations made for the scheme, say labour associations, adding that whether the trend is sustainable remains to be seen.