The People’s Action for Employment Guarantee on Monday welcomed the decision of the Centre to increase the allocation under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act by Rs 40,000 crore, amid an economic crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 2020-’21 Union Budget, presented on February 1, had pegged the estimate at Rs 61,000 crore.

The group said that according to its calculations, the minimum inflation-adjusted allocation for the scheme in 2020-’21 should be Rs 1,02,044 crore. “Assuming a 10% percent inflation and indexation adjustment to this, we get a minimal allocation required for FY 2020-21 just to maintain the standards of FY 2019-20 as Rs 92,767 crores + Rs 9276.7 crores = Rs 1,02,044 crores, i.e., about Rs 1 lakh 2 thousand and fifty crores,” the group said.

With the infusion of Rs 40,000 crore, the total allocation for the 2020-’21 financial year has crossed Rs 1 lakh crore, in line with the group’s recommendations. However, it said at least double this allocation is needed in the present scenario.

“This will require at least double the current enhanced allocation, so as to deal with the ongoing disaster,” the press note said. It also called for the implementation of an urban employment guarantee programme, calling it a dire need. The organisation also said it hopes that the Ministry of Rural Development issues protocols for implementation of the current phase of MNREGA at the earliest.

It said MNREGA should move towards becoming an open-ended entitlement allowing every individual to work for at least 200 days. At present, the entitlement is 150 days but this needs to be increased to 200 days along with the allocation, keeping in mind the dire situation due to the coronavirus, it said.

“The additional funding to MGNREGA will help to reduce the shortfall and allow the states to ensure the quick registration of job cards for those returning from urban areas, for freshly registering job cards of increased rural labour demand, and to open new works to generate employment at this critical time,” the group said.

The group added that in April, the employment under MNREGA was 83% lower than that of last year, mainly because of the nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and the resulting confusion about the implementation of the measures. “In such circumstances, the law requires payment of unemployment allowance for the lack of employment provided to those who had demanded work,” the press note said. “We hope that the Central and State governments will provide this allowance immediately.”

“Such measures would ensure that workers seeking work can be provided a measure of income and work security, and by receiving timely payment of wages can ensure basic food security for themselves and their families,” the group said. “We also hope that the government will use its stocks of food grain to universalise the PDS [public distribution system] at the earliest, without requirement of ration cards or other cards.”

India’s unemployment rate has surged as the lockdown has crippled the economy. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, the unemployment rate touched a whopping 27.1% for the week ended May 3. India has so far reported over 96,000 cases of Covid-19, including more than 3,000 deaths.

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