Demand for jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act increased by almost 10% in 2018-’19 – the last financial year of the National Democratic Alliance government – compared to the previous year, The Indian Express reported on Tuesday.
Citing data from the Ministry of Rural Development, the newspaper reported that work generated under the scheme was 255 crore person-days in this financial year, up to March 25. This was the highest number of person-days of work registered under the scheme since 2010-’11. Under the scheme, the unit of one person-day is taken to be eight hours of work.
Activists said the demand for jobs under the scheme reflect the unemployment crisis, while government officials attributed it to increase in frequency of events related to climate change, like drought or floods.
In 2014-’15, the first of the NDA government, 166 crore person-days of work was generated under the scheme. In the following two fiscal years, the scheme generate 235 crore person-days of work and 233 crore person-days in 2017-18. In 2009-’10, when the United Progressive Alliance was in its second term, 283 crore person-days of work was generated owing to severe drought.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or MGNREGA is social security measure that ensures 100 days of unskilled manual work to all rural households with the number of working days allowed to be increased to 150 days in the event of drought, flood or other calamities.
In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called the scheme a “living monument to the failures of the Congress”. He, however, announced that the scheme would continue.
Nikhil Dey, who co-founded the Mazdoor Kishan Shakti Sangathan, said the demand for jobs under the MGNREGA grew due to joblessness, but the provision of work was “often restricted due to inadequate funds being allotted for the scheme by the Finance Ministry”. “The recent increase in person-days reflects that the government has finally acknowledged this demand,” he told The Indian Express.
Rajendran Narayanan, a MGNREGA researcher at the Azim Premji University, said the agrarian crisis was acute over the past year and there has been no alternative source of employment.
The Rural Development Ministry had announced a provision of 150 days of work under the scheme in most districts of Jharkhand and Karnataka owing to the drought. As per the ministry’s estimates, a quarter of the districts in the country were declared drought-hit in recent years leading to an increase in demand for jobs under MGNREGA.