Rural jobs scheme generated record 3.9 billion days of work

As millions of migrant workers returned home last year after factories and businesses downed shutters during the country’s 68-day long hard lockdown, India’s federal job guarantee programme (MGNREGS) generated a bumper 3.877 billion days of work in FY2020-21, benefitting 112 million people — its best performance since inception.

Nearly all big states significantly scaled up their MGNREGS operations, with Rajasthan emerging as the top state in terms of work, generating 454 million days of work (in person days) followed by West Bengal (414 million). India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh generated 394 million days of work, Madhya Pradesh, 341 million, and Tamil Nadu, 333 million, according to official data from the Union rural development ministry.

Bihar, the state estimated to have received highest number of returning migrant workers last year, could only generate 227 million days of work in the federal job programme that served as a vital source of income for 75 million poor households as Covid-19 raged through the country, infecting millions, killing tens of thousands, and roiling the economy. The government estimates the Indian economy to contract by 8% in 2021-22. In these straitened circumstances, the rural job guarantee scheme was the lifeline for tens of millions of households.

A senior official of the Union rural development ministry said on condition of anonymity that even Bihar has improved its performance from FY19-20 during which it could only generate 140 million days of work. “A state like Rajasthan has a lot of area available for MGNREGS work but Bihar has mostly agricultural land. It also suffered floods.”

“But there’s no denying that states such as Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu have an efficient administration and a strong presence of civil society; Bihar lags in these areas,” added the official.

West Bengal provided works to the highest number of individuals (12 million), followed by Tamil Nadu, 11.6 million. In Rajasthan, 11 million people have worked in MGNREGS last year, while 7.9 million people got MGNREGS work in Bihar.

The government last year poured more than ₹one lakh crore into the MGNREGS and introduced Prime Minister’s Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan, targetting migrant workers, in 116 districts across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha. Each selected district received at least 25,000 returnee migrant workers. This special job campaign frontloaded existing programmes to create a basket of work worth ₹50,000 crore, targetting both skilled and unskilled migrant workers.

The scheme eventually received an additional allocation of ₹10,000 crore, which was used primarily for MGNREGS-related work such as construction of rural houses or water conservation and harvesting. Under MGNREGS, a beneficiary can avail up to 100 days of construction-related work in the government’s rural housing programme.

The Centre has continued to pump in more money into rural India and this year’s annual budget saw a 10% hike in funds for rural development ministry compared to last year’s budgeted estimate. But the allocation fell short by ₹66,000 crore than the revised estimate for 2020-21, which was sharply increased to address the impact of Covid.

The budget allocation for the rural development ministry has been hiked to ₹1.32 lakh crores for FY21-22 from ₹1.20 lakh crore in FY20-21. The revised estimates for FY20-21 went up to ₹1.97 lakh crore as the government rolled out two stimulus packages to provide jobs and social security during an unprecedented health emergency. (Hindustan Times)