Coronavirus lockdown | Only 30 lakh found MGNREGA work in April

This is 82% lower than in previous year.

April 30, 2020 12:07 am | Updated 08:46 am IST - NEW DELHI

Labourers at an MGNREGA work site in Amethi.

Labourers at an MGNREGA work site in Amethi.

Although the Centre gave explicit instructions to reopen its flagship rural jobs scheme from April 20, only 30 lakh people were provided work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in April, about 17% of the usual, government data show.

In mid-April, only 1% of the usual number of workers had found employment.

Coronavirus | Lockdown hits MGNREGA workers hard

The figures for this April are the lowest in five years, and show an 82% drop from the previous year’s figure of 1.7 crore workers. Some States had zero workers as on April 29, showing they had not restarted their work sites at all. Only 1,005 people got work in Haryana, along with 2,014 in Kerala and 6,376 in Gujarat, showing very low rates of employment. Andhra Pradesh, on the other hand, has provided 10 lakh jobs, though it is still lower than the 25 lakh jobs provided last April.

In the light of government failure to provide sufficient work at a time when the loss of livelihoods due to the lockdown and returning migrant workers have increased the need for work in Indian villages, there is a rising demand for compensation wages to be paid to workers instead.

“MGNREGA families should be given at least ten days’ wages as free cash for the loss in the month of April,” said economist Reetika Khera, who teaches at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad. “The government asked the private sector to pay workers. Shouldn’t they lead by example?”

Coronavirus | MGNREGA jobs crash to 1% of normal

On April 4, activists of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan had filed a petition in the Supreme Court, asking for full wages to be paid through the lockdown to the scheme’s 7.6 crore active job card-holders. On April 20, an intervention application was filed asking that as an interim measure, unemployment allowance be paid to all who were at work on March 24, when the lockdown was announced. Almost 1.6 crore workers found employment under the scheme in March.

The scheme stipulates that if workers register for work, but are not provided employment, they are eligible to an unemployment allowance amounting to a quarter of their wages in the first month, half in the second, and full wages thereafter.

“An unemployment allowance is the very least that should be paid to these workers,” said Nikhil Dey, one of the activists who filed the petition.

Coronavirus | Centre releases ₹4,431 crore to clear pending wages under MGNREGA

Going forward, he suggested that the scheme, which has a ₹61,500 crore budget this year, be expanded and leveraged as a way to provide basic rural livelihoods which have been destroyed at a single stroke by the COVID-19 crisis. “There is already a provision to extend the number of guaranteed days of work from 100 to 150 at a time of drought or national calamity. This year, that should be extended to 200 days of work once the lockdown is lifted,” said Mr. Dey, adding that MGNREGA workers could be used to deliver rations, provide labour at agricultural markets and help restore disrupted supply chains in rural areas.

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