Covid-19 pandemic woes: One in 4 workers opted for NREGA

By: |
April 1, 2021 4:15 AM

Persons demand MGNREGS work was still at an elevated level of 3.7 crore in February 2021 compared with 3.1 crore in October.

However, the government's MGNREGS dashboard indicates that the pick-up in economic activities hasn't created enough jobs in urban areas and that a section of migrant labourers who returned to their rural homes, has chosen to stay put.However, the government's MGNREGS dashboard indicates that the pick-up in economic activities hasn't created enough jobs in urban areas and that a section of migrant labourers who returned to their rural homes, has chosen to stay put.

In the past year ravaged by the pandemic, one in every four persons in the country’s labour force worked under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). This compares with the scenario in the previous few years, when not even one in six in the labour force resorted to the scheme for sustenance. The data indicate that millions have been pushed back into poverty by the pandemic and also prove the popular job scheme’s high efficacy in addressing the exigency.

The country has created 383.9 crore person days of work under MGNREGS in 2020-21, the highest ever and up 45% over such work in the previous year. The budgetary spending on the scheme was at an all-time high of Rs 1,07,459 crore in 2020-21 compared with Rs 68,266 crore in 2019-10.

In each of the last four years, around 16% of the labour force worked under MGNREGS, but its reliance on the scheme rose to 23.6% in 2020-21 (see graph). Assuming a member of the labour force does about 200 days of work in a year, MGNREGS provided for about 4% of all person (work) days in the fiscal that ended on Wednesday. Of course, large-scale job losses across the economy, especially in the informal sector, would have reduced the overall work days substantially in the past year, meaning the scheme’s relative role in creating work was much higher.

The share of MGNREGS in the work days created peaked in May and June of last year, when the person days were 57 and 64 crore, respectively, compared with the monthly average of 32 crore in the year.

However, the government’s MGNREGS dashboard indicates that the pick-up in economic activities hasn’t created enough jobs in urban areas and that a section of migrant labourers who returned to their rural homes, has chosen to stay put.

Persons demand MGNREGS work was still at an elevated level of 3.7 crore in February 2021 compared with 3.1 crore in October. The government has regulated the supply due to budget constraints – person days created slid from 64 crore in June to 39.1 crore in July and further to 24.2 crore in February.

An average of 50.98 days of employment has been provided to each beneficiary household under MGNREGS in 2020-21, compared with of 48.4 days in the previous year. As part of its relief package under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, daily wage rate under MGNREGS was hiked by Rs 20 to Rs 202, effective April 1 2020.

The scheme’s mandate under the MGNREG Act 2005 is to provide at least 100 days of ‘wage employment’ in a financial year to every rural household whose adult member volunteers to do unskilled manual work. This goal has never been met; even in 2020-21, an average of 50 days of work was given to a beneficiary household.

According to World Bank, the size of India’s labour force was 47.16 crore in 2020, down from 49.74 crore a year earlier. The number was in the 48-49 crore range in the previous few years.

The labour force comprises people of 15 years and older who supply labour for the production of goods and services and includes people who are currently employed and people who are unemployed but seeking work as well as first-time job-seekers. Of course, unpaid workers, family workers, and students are excluded.

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