Chhattisgarh ranks third after Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh as far as the intake of labourers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is concerned because of the nationwide lockdown restrictions, which were imposed on March 25 to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.
“Chhattisgarh government has issued 39,55,163 job cards under MGNREGS. In the last two months 21,84,291, or 55% of the total job cards were issued because of the pandemic,” said Mazhar Khan, nodal officer, MGNREGS, Chhattisgarh.
The percentage of job cards is calculated as per a financial year – from April 1 to March 31 – and in 2019 around 63% were issued by the state government.
“We’re expecting that MGNREGS will generate up to 80% of rural employment in this financial year because of the pandemic,” Khan added.
The state government authorities said the intake under MGNREGS has doubled in Chhattisgarh that has an estimated population of about 29 million.
Data showed that the total number of registered rural households in Chhattisgarh is 41,22,882, of which 39,55,163, or about 96% have job cards.
A registered household refers to a person from a family living in rural areas, who have applied to avail of the benefits under the MGNREGS and his application has been accepted by the secretary of a panchayat.
Dharmlal Kaushik, leader of opposition in Chhattisgarh assembly, has demanded that the state government must increase the mandatory workdays from 100 to 150 under the scheme, as several labourers have exhausted their 100-day quota and are facing joblessness because of the Covid-19-induced economic crisis.
State panchayat minister Tribhuvaneshwar Saran Singh Deo has countered Kaushik’s suggestions. “I’ve already written to the Centre government, stating that the state government is willing to ensure an additional 50 days of works for those enrolled under the MGNREGS. However, we’d like to impress upon the Centre that it must mandatorily double the assured workdays from 100 to 200 because of the deepening economic crisis.”
The minister did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation to arrive at the proposed increase in the number of the workdays under the scheme. “Usually, a calendar year has 365 days, of which 52 are either Sundays or a weekly off. At least three months account for monsoon, or another 100-odd days are lost. The rest of the days can be easily utilised for MGNREGS,” he said.
Singh Deo urged the Centre to mandate more workdays under the scheme and also ensure prompt payment facilities. In normal circumstances, a labourer in Chhattisgarh clock around 36 workdays, even though the cap is on 100 days. “Now, this option should be doubled to 200 workdays to tide over the growing unemployment woes in rural areas,” he added.
Singh Deo has instructed officials to create new job cards for migrant workers under MGNREGS, farm and allied sectors, water conservation and irrigation on a priority basis.