In a first, a study providing empirical evidence conducted on the impact of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) during the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that the wages earned under the Act helped compensating somewhere between 20% and 80% of the income loss incurred because of the lockdown. The report also said that around 39% all job card-holding households interested in working under the MGNREGA did not get a single day of work in the COVID year of 2020-21.
As of 2022-23, there are 15.4 crore active workers under the MGNREGA. The study titled “Employment guarantee during COVID-19 — The Role of MGNREGA in the year after the 2020 lockdown” conducted by Centre for Sustainable Employment, Azim Premji University, collaborative Research and Dissemination (CORD), Samaj Pragati Sahyog and NREGA consortium was released on Thursday. The study was aimed at determining the extent to which working in the programme provided income support to vulnerable households during the pandemic.
The team surveyed four States — Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. The annual income of the households in these eight blocks pre-COVID ranged between ₹33,414 in Phulparas in Bihar and ₹1,06,558 in Ghatigaon in Madhya Pradesh. The dip in income during the period ranged 56.4% in Bidar, Karnataka to 8.9% in Surgana, Maharashtra.
The final report of the survey that was conducted in December 2021 said, “We estimate that for households who found work in both the periods (pre-COVID and during COVID), the increased earnings from MGNREGA were able to compensate for somewhere between 20% and 80% of income loss depending on the block. For households who had not worked in the pre-COVID year but found work during the COVID year, we find that MGNREGA earnings compensated for anywhere between 20% and 100% of income lost from other sources”.
At the same time, the study also pointed out that, MGNREGA was unable to meet with the actual demand from the ground. MGNREGA is a right to work programme that guarantees 100 days of employment to every rural household that demands work. By design, MGNREGA is designed absorb shocks such as pandemic. But to enable this, the programme budget should increase as per the demand for work, that does not happen. Across the eight blocks, on an average 39% of households did not get a single day’s work. “This means two out of five households that needed work in the COVID year did not get even a single day of MGNREGA work. The households that did not get a single day of work, actually wanted 77 days of work in the year on average,” the study pointed out.
As per the study, if all the “unmet demand” has to be fulfilled the NREGA wage bill should be increased at least three times.
The survey also tried to assess the popularity and the necessity of MGNREGA. “As a most compelling referendum for strengthening and expanding MGNREGA, we found that a vast majority of households recommended that each individual instead of each household should get 100 days of work in a year,” the study observed.
The most frequently mentioned reason for not getting as much work as needed, across all blocks, was lack of adequate works being sanctioned/opened. On an average, 63% of all job card-holding households cited this reason in the surveyed blocks. Another important aspect of programme functioning is timely payment of wages. We find in our survey that on average, only 36% of all households that worked in the COVID year said that they got their wages within 15 days as laid down by the Act. “The situation seemed particularly harsh in both the blocks of Madhya Pradesh where only 1% of the households said that they got their wages within the 15 day period in the COVID year,” the study found.