Demand for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) work dropped nearly 35 per cent in July. This is attributed to above-average rainfall in several parts of the country and pick-up in kharif sowing.
July is usually considered a lean month for MGNREGA work because worksites get impacted by heavy monsoon. Yet 20.43 million households sought work under the scheme that month, according to the official website.
The latest Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data corroborates this drop. Agriculture absorbed 9.4 million people in July, but it also shed 8 million in June.
However, despite the fall in work demand it is still higher than any of the comparative pre-pandemic periods, the official website showed.In April, around 23.26 million households demanded work under MGNREGA. This figure rose to 30.74 million in May before dropping to 31.67 million and further sliding to 20.43 million in July.
Until August 3, the expenditure on the scheme has been close to Rs 40,000 crore. Turns out that nearly 55 per cent of the 2022-23 Budget for the scheme at Rs 73,000 crore has been expended in the first four months itself.
This has triggered calls for adequate funding of the programme to stop payment delays and artificial suppression of demand. As on August 3, the Centre’s net balance is negative to the tune of around Rs 2,201.75 crore.
In June, India received almost 8 per cent below-normal rains. This jumped to 17 per cent above normal in July.
Since half of India’s farmland doesn’t have irrigation management, the monsoon accounts for about 75 per cent of India’s annual rainfall. Revival of monsoon also pushed up sowing of kharif crops, which went past last year’s levels for the first time this season around July 15, with the exception of paddy and arhar.
This seems to have contributed in pushing down MGNREGA work demand in July.
In a related development, NREGA workers from more than 15 states have gathered for a three-day protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi under the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha banner, to press for adequate funding.
Two years into the pandemic, NREGA’s demand remains high. Yet the government’s scheme is under attack for consistent lowering of budgetary allocations, delayed wage payments, negligible compensation, and woefully low wages.
“An analysis of 1.8 million wage invoices in the first half of 2021-22 showed that only 29 per cent of payments were processed within the mandated seven-day period by the government. There is enough evidence suggesting that inadequate fund allocation led to wage delays,” read a statement from NREGA Sangharsh Morcha.
Anuradha Talwar from Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity said that the NREGA wage should be Rs 600 per day — roughly equal to the monthly salary of the lowest-paid government employee — in line with the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission.