Demand for work under MGNREGA falls for 4th month

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NEW DELHI: The September work demand under MGNREGA has been identical to the previous month, notching a straight fourth month decline in households seeking employment under the distress scheme during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Around 2 crore households sought work under the job scheme in September, which is a slight dip from August when around 2.02 crore households applied for employment. These figures, however, mark a sharp fall from July.
The decrease comes amid reports that sections of migrants have returned to cities after the end of the nationwide lockdown. The reverse migration of workers from cities to villages at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, captured by the heart-rending scenes of families with women and children walking hundreds of kilometres to their native places, compounded the already soaring work demand caused by the collapse of the informal economy as well as traditional job hubs in the countryside.
After the restrictions were partially relaxed on April 20, the need for work under MGNREGA shot up manifold from previous years. As many as 1.30 crore households applied for work in April for just the last 10 days of the month. In May, the number of households seeking jobs increased to 3.46 crore and then to 4.06 crore in June.
It is after June that MGNREGA witnessed a steep decline which has continued during the July-September period.
According to the rural development ministry, the downward graph, that seems to surprise all given the dismal state of the informal economy, is because of three factors — monsoon, agriculture operations and return of some migrant workers to cities.
In terms of trends, MGNREGA witnesses seasonal swings. The demand is lesser during monsoons as workers are engaged in farm operations of their own to a lesser extent while largely finding work in the fields of big farmers. On the other hand, the demand is higher during summers and during calamities like drought.
Going by history, the dip in work is not extraordinary but follows the pattern witnessed over past years. In 2019-20, the work demand rose from 2.18 crore households in May to 2.23 crore in June before slipping to 1.50 crore in July to 1.04 crore in October, before picking up again to maintain an upward trend till February.
However, during the pandemic period, the margins of increase have been unprecedented.
If MGNREGA’s past is taken as the marker, then the job demand may fall in October too before picking up. What will be interesting to see is if the rise again is as sharp as seen in the April-June phase. It will have a direct bearing on the budgetary support required for the demand-based programme.

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