Activists seek 50 more days of work under MGNREGA

Workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) scheme. Photo used for representation purpose only.   | Photo Credit: G.N. Rao

More than 2 lakh rural households have already completed their guaranteed 100 days of employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme within the first three months of the financial year, according to the scheme’s database. This is higher than seen at the same time last year, indicating even higher demand for work than 2020-21’s unprecedented levels.

Given the high rates of rural job loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic, activists belonging to the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday, asking for an additional 50 days of work to be provided under the scheme, with funding allocated from the disaster management budget.

Also read: Scale up MGNREGA during COVID-19 crisis: Congress

The MGNREGA scheme guarantees 100 person days of non-skilled employment for every rural household each year, and proved a lifeline for migrant workers and families hit by the COVID-19 lockdown last summer. In acknowledgement of the disaster, the Centre increased MGNREGA funding by ₹40,000 crore for 2020-21. However, funding is back to pre-COVID-19 levels this year, with the Centre arguing that there has been no nationwide lockdown, and there have been lower levels of reverse migration.

However, the MGNREGA database shows that this year’s demand may be even higher than last year’s. As on June 26, 2.17 lakh rural households have already completed their 100 day quota and will not be able to seek any more work from MGNREGA this year. Last year, The Hindu had reported in the first week of July that 1.4 lakh households had completed their 100 day quota within the first quarter. (During early April 2020, most MGNREGA worksites were shut down across the country, resulting in low levels of work provided.)

Throughout 2020-21, an unprecedented 72 lakh households completed 100 days of work. If the trend of the first quarter continues, this year will see an even higher number of families who run out of work under the scheme.

In its letter to the PM, the Morcha pointed out that the Rural Development Ministry already has the power to notify 50 days of additional work for households in areas hit by drought or any other natural calamity. “The Covid-19 pandemic is a severe calamity and has caused massive disruptions in the lives of the poor and each individual is impacted by it. The current situation demands that each NREGA worker can access additional employment for at least 50 days,” said the letter, suggesting that a supplementary budget can be allocated from the National Disaster Relief Fund.

It also called for wages to be tripled in accordance with Pay Commission recommendations and that MGNREGA workers infected by COVID-19 get a one-time monetary compensation as well.

The letter laid out the severe economic distress among rural communities given that most States are under lockdown due to the second wave of the pandemic. It notes that the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy reported that 7.35 million people lost employment between March and April end, and that the week ending June 13 saw a 12% rural weekly rate of unemployment. Reserve Bank of India data shows that loans against gold have jumped a whopping 82% since March 2020. “With business shut, jobs lost and salaries slashed, many people are pledging their household gold savings to borrow money to meet their essential expenditure as well as emergency medical requirements,” said the letter.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 11:40:40 PM |

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