The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), the high-profile rural welfare scheme fortified by a law passed by Parliament in 2005, holds a promise 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. But even during 2020-21, the year in which the Centre released the highest amount (`1.1 lakh crore) for the scheme in the wake of the pandemic, the registered households could secure barely a quarter of the promised work.
According to a study by the Centre for Economic Data and Analysis (CEDA) affiliated to Ashoka University, an average of just 22 days’ employment was provided to registered households on a pan-India basis in 2020-21. The employment days were, of course, lower at least in the previous five years, with the previous high under the Narendra Modi government being 18 days of work obtained by the registered households in both 2016-17 and 2018-19.
In fact, 2020-21 saw only 4.1% of the registered families find 100 days of employment under MGNREGA, though it was again the peak level achieved between 2015-16 and 2020-21.
Of course, as per government data, the average employment days per household in each year has been much higher, but this is because only those families which obtained at least one day’s employment constituted the base. The government says an average of 51.52 days of work was provided under the scheme in 2020-21, 48.4 days in 2019-20 and 50.88 days in 2018-19. Ideally, all families registered must be the base for determining the level of employment provided, as all of these households are eligible for work and have volunteered to take it up.
CEDA’s analysis also showed that some of the backward states, which saw labour influx in the initial months of 2020-21 due to reverse migration, fared even worse than the country as a whole in the year, in providing employment to the rural population in distress. “Among large states, the highest average employment per registered household in 2020-21 was provided by Chhattisgarh at 43 days. Madhya Pradesh saw an average of 39 days. In the same year, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar saw an average of only 18 days and 11 days respectively,” Ankur Bhardwaj, editor at CEDA, wrote in a recent article co-authored with Ashwini Deshpande, professor at Ashoka University.
They wrote: “We find that between 2015-16 and 2020-21, the highest average employment provided per registered person in the country was 12 days in the year of the pandemic, 2020-21. The lowest average employment during this period was 8 days in 2015-16.”
CEDA arrives at the average employment provided to registered households by dividing total person days of employment provided in a particular year by the number of registered households for that year; the same method is used for finding average employment provided to persons registered.
A total of 389.18 crore person days of work were generated under the scheme in 2020-21, compared with 265.35 crore person days in FY20 and 267.96 crore in FY19. The number of households registered for work stood at 132.44 million in 2020-21 and 116.14 million in 2019-20. The scheme was launched in 2005.
As reported by FE earlier, the government seems to be more economical with the spend on the scheme in the current financial year — at least there isn’t evidence of a loosening of the purse strings by it as yet. A total of 184 crore person days have been generated and the Centre has released `54,430 crore to the states so far out of the total budgetary allocation of `73,000 crore for the current fiscal. Against 4 crore persons demanded MGNREGS work in April, 4.14 crore in May, 5 crore in June, 4.26 crore in July and 3.21 crore in August, generation of person days of work under the job guarantee scheme had been at 34 crore in April, 37 crore in May, 45 crore in June, 38 crore in July and 26.5 crore in August.
However, replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha recently, minister of state for rural development Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti said a 23% annual increase was reported in the number of households that have completed 100 days of work under the MGNREGS in the first three months of the current fiscal. “A total of 3,91,112 households have completed 100 days of work (under MGNREGS) in the months of April-June 2021,” the minister said.