Will MGNREGA help again? Rs 1,387 crore pending in wages

Migrant workers are returning to their home states again as COVID-19 pandemic lashes out brutally at several urban centres 

By Shagun
Published: Tuesday 20 April 2021
Rs 1,387 crore pending in unpaid unskilled wages under MGNREGA, data shows. Photo: Manish Chandra Mishra

Some Rs 1,387 crore is pending in unskilled wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the Indian government’s flagship rural employment guarantee scheme, according to data on the MGNREGA dashboard.

The dashboard is a website designed and developed by the National Informatics Centre and maintained by the Union Ministry of Rural Development.

In Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh, a little over Rs 243 crore is pending as payment dues. These states together account for over 65 per cent migrant workers returning home during last year’s novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown.

However, the highest dues pending are in the states of Manipur and Nagaland. The government has not cleared wage arrears to the tune of Rs 772 crore, accounting for 55 per cent of the total pending payment in these two states according to the dashboard.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme, that guarantees at least 100 days of unskilled work a year to every rural household, has assumed renewed significance over the last one year.

It has proved to be a lifeline for migrant workers who returned to their villages after facing loss of livelihood in cities. The economic distress was so high that even many skilled and educated people turned to the world’s biggest job guarantee scheme to earn their daily living.

In the first few months post the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, the demand for work under MGNREGA rose to new levels. More than 40 million households asked for work in June 2020, as against the usual average demand of 23.6 million in the month.

The data also shows that the Centre is left with only Rs 9,455 crore out of the total available funds of Rs 1,20,590 crore as on April 20, 2021. Payments also have to be made from the remainder towards material and administration costs, which total Rs 16,512 crore.

Even the allocation towards the scheme in the 2021-22 Union Budget seemed like an underestimation of the increasing demand for work under the scheme. The allocation was only Rs 73,000 crore, 34.52 per cent below the revised budgetary estimate of Rs 111,500 crore for 2020-21. Revised estimates are mid-year review of possible government expenditure during the ongoing financial year.

Experts had then pointed out that the allocation would not be able to meet the rising demand for MGNREGA work that would result in delays in wage payments in the coming year.

The Centre had initially allocated Rs 61,500 crore to MGNREGA in 2020. But it had raised this allocation by another Rs 40,000 crore under its 20 lakh crore financial package.

The scheme would need a new financial boost to meet the demand for work and increased dependency on it for rural employment as migrant workers rush back to their hometowns and villages again during the COVID-19 second wave. 

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