On April 17, 2021, the number of workers enrolled under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) in Maharashtra was 3.57 lakh – up from 1.4 lakh exactly a year ago.
Although enrolment under MNREGA in the state increases in peak summer — from mid-April to June end — the Covid 19 restrictions are believed to be a primary reason for growing demand for MNREGA in rural Maharashtra.
A senior secretary in the Employment Guarantee Scheme Department told The Indian Express, “Our preliminary estimate is there will be a 10 per cent rise in employment under MNREGA this summer.”
The Covid-19 surge, leading to stricter restrictions this year, has led to reverse migration of unskilled and skilled labour force from cities like Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad and Nashik to rural areas, resulting in rising demand for work under MNEREGA.
Cabinet Minister for EGS Sandipan Bhumare said, “The state is gearing up to absorb a larger unskilled workforce under MNREGA. Every worker who seeks a job will be accommodated. We have also ensured that payments to these workers will be done within 15 days as mandated under MNREGA guidelines.”
Currently, there are 3.57 lakh workers on jobs under MNREGA across 9,296 gram panchayats in the state. The number of works (projects) covered is 36,806.
Under the scheme, 34 districts, 351 talukas and 28,488 gram panchayats are covered. The two districts not covered under the scheme are Mumbai City and Mumbai suburbs.
The state, which pays Rs 238 as daily wage to workers under MNREGA, has focused on assigning works that lead to permanent assets. Two important projects undertaken this summer to accommodate the larger workforce and tackle water conservation are tree plantation on 4,000 hectares of land, and continuation of last year’s irrigation project.
An official in the ministry said, “If the monsoon is good and timely, small and marginal farmers and farm labourers will not depend on MNREGA for daily wages. If the monsoon is late, things can get worse.”
After the nationwide lockdown was enforced on March 25 last year, there was a sharp rise in unskilled labourers turning to MNREGA. From 1.4 lakh in April 2020, it jumped to 7.5 lakh in June.
The minister said, “With employment prospects shrinking in urban Maharashtra, demand for work rose in rural belts as work in agriculture sector remained unaffected.”
He added, “Apart from MNEREGA, the state government is simultaneously creating avenues for rural workers to shift towards self-employment.”
Of a total of 8.62 lakh works under MNEREGA, 2.51 lakh were completed last year. The remaining ones have been taken up this year in three phases.
Total expenditure incurred last year under MNREGA was Rs 2,020 crore. Of this, Rs 1,500 crore was on unskilled labour.
The minister has directed the department to ensure adequate representation to women workers through MNREGA. Last year, 42 per cent workers were women. If overall enrolment rises, women workers’ enrolment will cross 45 per cent this summer, it is estimated.