More than 33% of registered NREGA workers yet to get work

Of the 6.4 crore workers registered, 2.2 crore workers have not got jobs. The workers in Bihar have got the least employment through NREGA and this is followed by Uttar Pradesh, Odisha

Photo courtesy- social media
Photo courtesy- social media

Ashlin Mathew

More than 33% of the workers who registered for work on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act portal have not got employment. Of the 6.4 crore workers registered as of June 6, 2.2 crore workers have not got jobs. This is even though May registered the highest number of households availing the job guarantee scheme in eight years.It must be remembered that a person gets employment under the scheme 15 days after the registration.

The demand for NREGA work comes in the backdrop of lakhs of migrants having gone back to their native states ever since the country imposed one of the harshest lockdowns in the world from March 24. They had little savings and were left to fend for themselves by their employers and the government. This forced the workers, most of whom are from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Assam and West Bengal, to head home.

The workers in Bihar have got the least employment through NREGA. Of the 31.1 lakh people who registered, only 17.7 lakh people have got employment through the scheme in the state. That leaves 43% people (13.4 crore) who are yet to find employment.

This is followed by Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, where 38% of those who have enrolled have not been got employment. In Odisha, of the 28.4 lakh people who registered, 17.5 lakh people have got jobs through NREGA, while in Uttar Pradesh of the 77 lakh who registered, 29 lakh people are yet to get employment. At 77 lakh, Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of employee registrations for NREGA work.

The Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ajay Bisht had on May 12 asked for creation of 50 lakh jobs per day under NREGA. However, almost a month later it is yet to come to fruition.

This is followed by Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Jharkhand at 35%. Of the 51 lakh people who registered for the NREGA scheme in Madhya Pradesh, only 33 lakh got employment. At least 18 lakh are yet to be employed under the scheme. West Bengal saw 31.1 lakh people of the 48 lakh who registered get work through NREGA. Jharkhand has had only 11.1 lakh registrations so far, of which 7.2 lakh have got jobs through the scheme.

Of the states in the Hindi heartland, Chhattisgarh has fared better. Though it has had the third highest employee enrolment (56.4 lakh) for NREGA work, 26% have not yet got jobs. More than 41.5 lakh of those who enrolled got jobs in Chhattisgarh.

Andhra Pradesh had the second highest enrolment at 76.2 lakh, where 56.5 lakh people have got work through the scheme. Here too, 26% have yet to get employments though the NREGA scheme.

All of these numbers are conservative figures, asserted Jean Dreze, economist and a Right to Food activist. “There is a lot of under-registered demand. Several people have not been able to get registered as offices are not fully functional and the insistence on Aadhaar card for enrollment. The demand is likely to grow as there are no other jobs available. There is no other alternative now. They would prefer to work and earn something than sit idle,” explained Dreze.

Many of the workers have returned home and there are no significant opportunities for employment. “In the last few years there has been a significant loss of interest on the part of the workers to enroll for NREGA work because of the delayed payment and stagnated wages. Though these concerns remain, people would prefer to work on NREGA sites. Now many more migrant workers are reaching home without any savings,” said Dreze.

There is a huge demand for NREGA work now. In fact, the month of May saw the highest demand for NREGA work in eight years. More than 2.19 crore households fell back on NREGA to get employment in May. According to a report, 2.5 crore persons were offered jobs daily in May 2020 as against 1.45 crore in May 2019.

Adding to it, Dreze underscored that there has never been so much demand for NREGA work and it is very important that governments respond to it. “The government must continue the work through monsoon. Normally it is difficult to organise work when it rains and party because people get busy on their fields when it rains, which will happen this year too. But, there will still be a huge demand for NREGA work. All the states will have to prepare for large scale NREGA work during monsoon,” said Dreze.

Three weeks ago, in the last tranche of the Covid-19 pandemic economic package, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced an additional allocation of Rs 40,000 crore for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment (MGNREGA). This was in addition to the budget estimate of Rs 61,000 crore. Sitharaman said this was to boost rural employment and would generate 300 crore person days in total. Pointing to the obvious, she said this would boost the rural economy and help the workers during the monsoon.

"While the additional allocation of Rs 40,000 crore is welcome, an allocation of Rs 1 lakh crore was impressed upon the government of India by various campaigns well before the pandemic. If the high current demand and high demand expected in the next few months have to be honoured as per the Act, then the Central government should start thinking of increased allocations right away. If the current levels of deficit between work demanded and employment provided continues to hold true, then the crisis will continue for longer than expected. There is an urgent need to honour the work demand immediately and ensure that unemployment allowance is paid as per the Act in case the demand is not met,” underscored Rajendran Narayanan, an assistant professor at Azim Premji University and researcher on accountability of government programmes like MGNREGA, Public Distribution Systems and pensions.

As soon as the lockdown had begun, on March 26, Sitharaman had misled the public about the nature of the increase in minimum MNREGA wage rate. While she had announced it as part of the financial aid, the increase in regular annual wage had already been announced on March 23 by the Rural Development Ministry. The ministry announces the wage increase annually and even without the outbreak of Covid-19, there would have been a hike in wages.

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