In a significant contraction in the workforce under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), a data analysis by LibTech India – a consortium of academics and activists – for April-September 2023 reveals a 7.5% reduction in the number of active workers, from 15.49 crore in the previous fiscal year to 14.33 crore, as per the data available till October 6, 2023.
The LibTech’s MGNREGS tracker for April-September 2023 provides a comparative analysis of data from preceding financial years 2021-22 and 2022-23 during the same time frame, using the data available with the Union Rural Development Ministry.
This statistics, read along with a net deletion of 80 lakh workers in the ongoing financial year, paints a bleak picture for the programme. “These statistics indicate a significant contraction in the MGNREGS workforce, emphasising the need for a comprehensive analysis to identify the factors contributing to this decline and to formulate strategies for revitalising the programme’s participation,” the report states.
While the MGNREGS workforce is shrinking, there is an increased demand for work under the scheme. The LibTech report reveals a 9% increase in person days (A person day is defined as the total number of work days by a person registered under the scheme in a financial year) under the MGNREGS, in comparison to the last financial year.
In the 2022-23 financial year, from April to September, 172.24 crore person days were generated. During the same period in the ongoing fiscal year, 188 crores days were generated. The report points out that this “intriguing trend” unfolds despite a reduction in the number of active job cards, workers, and a significant number of deletions.
“It is reasonable to infer that the generated person days would have been even higher if those wrongly deleted workers were reinstated, underscoring the substantial reliance of workers on NREGA. This observation emphasises the persistently high and growing demand for employment opportunities under NREGA,” the report states.
The report has also noted State-level variations in the employment trends. A total of 14 States reported an increase, while in six States there has been a decline. A notable drop was observed in West Bengal (99.5%), where the scheme has been suspended by the Union government alleging large-scale corruption in the implementation of the programme. The other States that have reported a decline include Himachal Pradesh (28.6%), and Madhya Pradesh (25.2%), while Chhattisgarh (106.4%), Jharkhand (75.6%), and Tamil Nadu (67.4%) saw the highest jump.