DEMAND FOR work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) continues to remain high two years after the Covid-19 pandemic. The figures, which dipped from the peak levels reported during the height of the pandemic, however, are much higher than the pre-Covid levels. Economists said that this is an indication of the underlying job crisis still prevalent in the country, especially in the rural parts.

Data from the portal of MGNREGS shows the country registered 2,52,39,405 job demands for July 2022. While this is a drop from the 3,13,47,749 job demands in July 2021 and 3,19,85,492 in July 2020, the demand is much higher than in July 2019 i.e. before the pandemic started.

The country had registered 1,83,15,808 job demands in July 2019. Thus, demand for jobs in the rural sector continues to be high even though the economic indicators talk about an almost normal pre-Covid level recovery.

In the initial days of the pandemic, especially post the March lockdown, the rural migrant population in the urban centres headed back home in hoards. Back in the villages while the Pradhan Mantri Anna Suraksha Yogna managed to take care of the requirement for food, the lack of jobs was acute.

Back then, the MGNREGS became a saviour of rural India with its guaranteed employment and regular payment and became a hit with both policy implementers and the rural population. Many states relaxed the ceiling of 100 days of work and increased the work days that can be provided to the people.

Under the scheme, registered workers can demand work at the local gram panchayat that is mandated to provide work. In case work is not provided registered workers are entitled to an allowance.

Work for road laying, horticulture, irrigation, drought proofing and even creation of public assets like libraries and warehouses are allowed under the scheme. A mix of manual and machine is allowed but contractors are strictly not allowed to work under the scheme.

However, economists believe that the higher work demand is a sign of a job crunch in rural areas. It also points to the fact that quite a sizeable portion of the rural population, who had migrated from the urban areas are yet to come back. While the post-pandemic recovery is more or less 100 per cent, the population which migrated back have decided to remain in their villages and continue working there, they said.

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