In what could be a direct result of localised lockdown due to spike in covid-19 cases, demand for work by households under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) has surged 102 percent in April 2021 to 2.45 crore households from 1.21 crore households a year before.
This demand is the highest during any April, ever since the data has been compiled from 2011.
MGNREGS guarantees at least 100 days of employment in a financial year to unskilled rural households at a pre-determined minimum wage rate.
Work for households and individuals are treated as separate categories under the scheme. Examples of household work are horticulture, sericulture, plantation, farm forestry among others. The state of Andhra Pradesh witnessed maximum demand in April with over 42 lakh households demanded work whereas Goa recorded demand for work from 159 households.
According to the data on the MGNREGA portal, there is a further 98 percent increase in demand for work by persons in April 2021 to 3.52 crore persons from a year earlier.
Labour experts say that a spike in demand for work comes after several states announced lockdowns and restrictions amidst a massive surge in COVID-19 cases, thereby leading to reverse migration of labour yet again.
There has been a significant drop in rural incomes due to a drop in farm trade and also as the rural non-farm activity had not recovered and urban workers are migrating to villages and hometowns to seek work under the scheme as states announced lockdowns.
The government has allocated Rs 73,000 crore to MGNREGA for 2021-22. It is 34 percent less than the revised estimate of Rs 1,11,500 crore for 2020-21. The government had allocated Rs 61,500 crore in 2020-21.
MGNREGA’s original avatar, NREGA, was rolled out by the Congress-led UPA government in 2006. It was one of its flagship schemes, and was renamed MGNREGA in 2009.
MGNREGA is widely attributed to have provided safety to millions of workers who shifted back to their hometowns and villages after having lost jobs in the wake of COVID-19 in 2020.