Demand for MGNREGS works exceeds last year’s figures

In the current financial year, demand for work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) has already exceeded last year’s consolidated demand. This despite the gradual opening of the economy where most migrant workers are already back in the cities.

The start of the Covid-19 pandemic saw a reverse migration of workers nationwide when the lockdown was announced. Once migrants returned to rural areas, MGNREGS became the mainstay of job creation in rural areas, with skilled and unskilled workers lining up to register for work. Last fiscal year, the program saw demand for labor soar to an all-time high. In the last fiscal year, 11.24 crore people applied for work under the program, of which 9.53 crore got jobs.

Trends for the current fiscal year, i.e. 2021-22, show that till date, 11.57 crore people had applied for jobs, of which 9.53 crores got jobs. With more than a month to go until the end of the fiscal year, job creation and demand may reach a new high. The demand pattern, as analyzed by the MGNREGS web portal, shows that demand peaked in May and June, after which it slowly dipped to a record high in November. Later, this demand slowly increased.

According to field surveys, this increased demand is an indication of the continued rural distress that has seen many people seek employment here compared to other formal sectors. The economic study called this an indicator of rural labor markets and highlighted how labor demand peaked during the nationwide lockdown in 2020. After that, demand leveled off, but labor demand is still higher to pre-pandemic levels.

“During the national lockdown, overall demand for MGNREGS works peaked in June 2020 and then leveled off. During the second wave of Covid, MGNREGS job demand peaked at 4.59 crores in June 2021. Nevertheless, after accounting for seasonality, demand at the aggregate level still appears to be higher than pre-pandemic levels of 2019. For some states like Andhra Pradesh and Bihar, the demand for work under MGNREGS has fallen below the pre-pandemic level,” the survey states.

Excluding a direct relationship between demand generation and migrant labor, the survey highlighted how source states like West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Bihar, the MGNREGS employment in most months of last year is below corresponding 2020 levels.

“In contrast, demand for MGNREGS jobs has been higher for migrant-receiving states like Punjab, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for most months in 2021 compared to 2020. There are still other states that do not fit neatly into this categorization. Therefore, the matter needs to be investigated further,” the survey states.

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