NEW DELHI: There has been a sharp 25% jump in the number of people given jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) — the rural jobs scheme which guarantees work to the poor in India’s villages — over the past five years since 2014-15.
Data provided by Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar in the lower house of Parliament on Tuesday show that the total number of individuals who worked under the scheme across the country has gone up from 6.22 crore in 2014-15 to 7.77 crore in 2018-19.
Economists see this as a reflection of the joblessness which besets India’s rural areas which again is believed to be the cause behind the huge fall in consumer demand in large swathes of the country.
“It represents the extent of joblessness or of distress in rural India,” said Dr Pronab Sen, ex-Chairman of the National Statistical Commission.
Tomar’s statement in reply to a question by Trinamool MP Prasun Banerjee as well as two BJP MPs – Jai Prakash and Poonam Mahajan — says the MGNREGA is a “demand-driven wage employment programme”. In other words, the scheme provides jobs based on people queuing up for them.
Economists feel the jump would have been sharper if more funds had been made available under the programme.
“Theoretically there is no ceiling to the expenditure on this scheme, but States claim they have not got the money they have sought from the Centre to fulfil the huge demand for jobs under MGNREGA,” said Dr Sen.
Data provided by Tomar shows that Central funds for the programne went up from Rs 32,977.42 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 61,829.55 crore.
In the current financial year, till November 11, 2019, the Central government has already released Rs 52,845.74 crore, or nearly 88 per cent of the year’s allocation, for MGNREGA.
“If we even release funds at the same rate for the rest of the year, then we will need at least Rs 45,000 crore-Rs 50,000 crore to run the programme for the remaining period of the year,” officials said.
However, Arindam Guha, partner with consulting firm Deloitte, is sanguine about the situation. “While the data do point to the fact that avenues elsewhere have reduced, it also underlines the fact that more meaningful schemes that attract workers have come up, including schemes like the rural housing scheme and schemes for bringing piped water to villages,” he said.
Several surveys have already shown that rural distress has been hitting people living in India’s villages hard. A consumer spending survey recently completed by the National Statistical Office, which has been junked by the government, showed that rural spending has contracted 8.8 per cent between 2011-12 and 2017-18.