The coronavirus pandemic has brought about massive loss of livelihoods and unemployment through the nation. The migrant crisis wherein lakhs of Indian migrant workers were compelled to leave behind the urban cities and undertake tedious journeys to their native village in what can clearly be described as reverse migration, the loss of livelihoods seems to be emerging as one of the most significant fallouts of the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant economic crisis. Amidst the sheer chaos and widespread unemployment, the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme(MGNREGS)seemed like a boon, because it provided certain number of secure employment days for the population that had only daily wages to bank upon.
The MGNREGS came to the rescue of thousands of people across the country and provided guaranteed employment to them amid what can be seen as one of the most adverse situations in recent history.
However what is worrying is that so far the scheme has already ended up spending close to half of the budget that had been allocated to it for the financial year 2020-21. The total money that has been spent on the project is Rs 48,759 crore and the total funds that had been allocated to it was Rs 1 lakh crore for the entire financial year.
The fact that nearly half of the budget had already been spent is indicative of the fact that there is a growing popularity of the scheme amid India’s unemployed and financially strained populations and it also establishes a worrying trend because there are still over eight months to go before the financial year comes to an end.
It is in this context that a recent study that had been conducted by the Azim Premji Foundation comes to light, it highlighted the fact that a greater number of gram panchayats throughout the country were already experiencing an exhaustion of their funds which had been given to them as part of the scheme and this underlines that they may have to face greater hardship and difficulty in the coming months if the pandemic continues and employability remains low.
The fact that 91 crore person days had been generated in the last two months also goes on to show that a large number of people in India are completing relying on the MGNREGS for making a living amid the coronavirus pandemic and that it has come as a huge aid to them amid growing financial strains and extended fiscal shortages.
The findings underline the fact that more than 3 lakh households in India have already completed 100 days of employment as allotted under the scheme. The exhaustion of funds at the panchayat level and the completion of working days by a large number of rural families, establishes a worrying trend because if the pandemic is to continuer several months more, the population which is completely dependent on daily wage earnings may be greatly impacted and may delve deeper into poverty.
The survey by APF also says that given the contemporary trends, it is highly possible that the demand of employment under the scheme will continue to remain high at least till the time the pandemic comes to an end. At the end, the APF report has also makes a series of recommendations out of which the increase of work days to 200 days per household along with an addition of Rs 1 lakh crore into the MGNREGS fund are at the centre.
The APF report is important also becomes it underlines how the weakness and fragility of the banking sector especially in the rural areas is responsible for slow payment in many instances but has highlighted that the in places where the banking infrastructure is sound, the process of payments has remained smooth.