The average days of employment provided per household under the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is at a five-year low, this financial year. As on January 20, the average days of employment provided per household is 42 days while it was 50 days in 2021-22, 52 days in 2020-21, 48 days in 2019-20 and 51 days in 2018-19.
According to officials, there has been a decline in demand for jobs under the scheme this financial year as opposed to the two pandemic years, when a significant population depended on MGNREGS to make up for the deficit in their income created by job loss.
Academics and activists, however, do not buy this argument and allege that the programme has been plagued by systemic problems that is disincentivising participation.
“Choking of funds has led to suppression of work demand and delays in wage payments. It is most likely that such supply constraints have led to workers getting routinely discouraged from doing NREGA work. The introduction of unnecessary technical complexities like an app for attendance at worksites has caused more hardships for workers who will be more dissuaded going forward,” Rajendran Narayanan, who teaches at Azim Premji University, explained.
Making the situation more bleak is the low utilisation of person days by several States. With less than two-months for the financial year to close, there are at least nine States and union territories which have utilised less than 70% of projected person days.
Person days under MGNREGS is defined as the total number of work days by a person registered under the scheme in a financial year. As per the statistics available till January 20, the errant States and UTs are: Arunachal Pradesh (63.92 %), Chhattisgarh (61.60%), Goa (18.03%), Haryana (59.91%), Manipur (14.52%), Meghalaya (55.65%), Andaman Nicobar (26.84%), Daman & Diu (0%) and Lakshadweep (33.63%).
Other than Daman and Diu which was allotted a miniscule 1 lakh person days, Manipur is at the bottom of the pile having utilised only 14.52% of its projected 2.5 crore person days. “The State’s performance in this financial year has been particularly bad, from the statistics available with us. Because of financial mismanagement, wages have also been delayed for 3-4 months,” a senior Rural Development Ministry official said.
Many activists point out that the performance of Chhattisgarh and Meghalaya is also particularly worrying as the two States have had a strong record in the previous years.
With low utilisation, financial outlay for the underperforming States is expected to further shrink in the upcoming financial year. Though the MNREG Act clearly states that it is a demand-driven programme which requires a bottom-up approach, more often than not the labour budget put up by States is trimmed by the Centre without giving any cogent explanation.
“For the programme to run effectively and for the workers to get their legal dues, the allocation should minimally be ₹2 lakh crore,” Mr. Narayanan said.