The report reveals that the number of rural households availing themselves of and thus depending on the the scheme in December 2020 and January 2021 are nearly the same as those who had been signed into it during August and September, 2020, when the employment crisis created by rising numbers of COVID-19 cases was at its peak.
The consistent popularity of the MGNREGS comes amidst Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, announcing in the Budget 2021-22 that allocations for the scheme would amount Rs 73,000 crore. This is a whopping 34.52% below the Revised Estimate of Rs 1,11,500 crore for 2020-21. This amount includes the additional Rs 40,000 crore that the government announced under MGNREGS as part of the recovery package following the pandemic.
Reports have noted that while the Budgetary Estimate for 2020-21 was Rs 61,500 crore, in 2019-20, Rs 71,686.70 crore was spent on MGNREGS.
The scheme, which was brought in 2006, has seen 10.51 crore individuals or 7.17 crore households avail themselves of it between April 1, 2020 and February 17, 2021. This is an all-time high for a financial year, notes the Express report.
The COVID-19 lockdown saw the return of lakhs of migrant workers from the cities to villages. The report analyses how demand for MGNREGS grew in keeping with the trends of the lockdown. June 2020, for instance, saw an 80% increase in demand for work under MGNREGS from June 2019.
The numbers fell very slightly in November after seeing a hike in August, September and October. Even then it was 47% higher than those of November 2019.
“The highest spurt in demand has been registered from states like Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh,” said the report.
The MGNREGA was, in fact, designed as a demand driven-programme, noted analysts Mampi Bose and Shantanu De Roy in their article for The Wire. According to the guidelines of the scheme, all households demanding employment under MGNREGA are entitled to receive a maximum of 100 days of employment.