Narendra Modi on Sunday bumped up allocation for the rural jobs program by another ₹40,000Crore to assure that the rural poor, including the hundreds of thousands of urban migrant workers who have returned to their villages, get jobs and thus wages crucial for their own survial.
The government allocated ₹61,000 crore for the rural job scheme in the budget for the current fiscal announced on 1 February. At ₹1.01 trillion, this is the highest allocation in a year for the program that was started in 2006 by the United Progressive Alliance government. The announcement was made by the finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman who was outlining the contours of the last tranche of relief measures meant to mitigate the impact of the lockdown on farmers and tribal communities besides businesses under the ₹20 trillion stimulus package announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday.
On Friday, Nirmala Sitharaman had said that nearly 24 million job seekers in rural areas were enrolled for work under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (i.e. MGNREGS) thus far since the lockdown was announced on 25 March. Many of these were those returning from urban areas after businesses downed shutters,as news reports had said.
The activities were to be undertaken while adhering to the social distancing norms. The creation of assets like village ponds and horticultural activities were allowed as long as this is able to not need the presence of an outsized number of individuals during a small area, as officials said.
According to Sitharamaan – “Actually 40-50% more persons have got enrolled compared to last May. We have enrolled all of the migrants coming back. We are making provisions through the agricultural development ministry to make sure that they get enrolled, they get work, they get the due payments.”
In the previous years, the rural employment programme has been a key source of livelihood for millions of rural households. It guarantees upto 100 days of unskilled work in a year to 1 member of every rural household and was credited with raising rural household incomes.
In 2017-18, the scheme has provided 45 days of labor on a mean to a rural household, compared to 49 days in 2015-16, when a widespread drought hit various states.