December data for person days (work) under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme (MG-NREGS) could turn out to be one of the lowest ever. In the first 17 days of the current month, just 4 crore person days were generated under the popular scheme that has helped alleviate rural distress during the pandemic, compared with over 22 crore each in the previous two months and an all-time peak of 64 crore in June last year.
Post the peak in June, the person days have since been declining almost steadily as the pandemic’s second wave abated.
Though the nascent economic revival has apparently led to a gradual decline in demand for MG-NREGS work – there has been reverse migration of workers to urban areas over the last few months – , the rate of decline in work under the scheme has been sharper.
It is obvious the government, mindful of a stressful fiscal situation, has become more economical with release of funds for the scheme. It had raised the Budget outlay for the scheme and released funds liberally when the pandemic was wreaking havoc in the country, especially during the first wave.
“Lack of funds has led to heavy rationing of employment generation this December. Such (sharp regulation) of allocation demonstrates the anti-poor stance of the government,” said Rajendra Narayanan, professor at Azim Premji University.
Debmalya Nandy of MGNREGA Sangarsh Morcha said, “While 20 crore person days were generated in December 2019, in the same month last year, which was a pandemic year, over 28 crore person days got generated. Considering the trend over the past few years, the performance in December this year looks abysmal and this could be attributed to non-release of funds.”
Compared with an allocation of Rs 1,11,500 crore for the scheme in the last fiscal year, the budgetary outlay (BE) in the current fiscal was Rs 73,000 crore. However, an additional Rs 25,000 crore was allocated for the scheme when supplementary demands on expenditure was placed in Parliament recently.
Against the total expenditure requirement estimated at Rs 82,794 crore under the scheme so far in the current fical, the Centre has released Rs 74,762 crore, suggesting that it is yet to release the supplementary funds and therefore, there has been a spurt in pending payments to the workers.
“Every year 80-85% funds provided in the Budget get exhausted within the first six months of the financial year and an inadequate supplementary allocation is then made in the ninth or tenth month by when workers get completely cash-strapped and implementation of the programme has slowed down to an extent that it won’t recover till the end of the financial year,” Nandy said.
MG-NREGS is a demand-driven scheme for the enhancement of livelihood security of the households in rural areas by providing at least one hundred days of guaranteed wage employment to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work in every financial year.
Against the scheme’s mandate to provide at least 100 days of ‘wage employment’ in a financial year to every rural household, 40.76 days of employment have been provided in the current fiscal on an average to rural households compared with 51.52 days in the last fiscal and 48.4 days in 2019-20.
A total of 260 crore person days of work has been generated under the scheme so far in the current fiscal compared with 389.16 crore in FY-21, 265.35 crore in FY20 and 267.96 crore in FY19.