Budget: Rural Jobs Funds Cut By 25% Though More Signed Up In Pandemic

MNREGA gives 100 days of guaranteed work to the unemployed in rural India
MNREGA gives 100 days of guaranteed work to the unemployed in rural India

The allocation in Budget 2022 for the government's rural employment programme MNREGA has been slashed by 25 per cent, even though the dependence of India's poorest on these jobs soared during the pandemic.

MNREGA or the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has been allotted Rs 73,000 crore for the financial year 2022-23. That is down from the revised estimate for the current financial year (2021-22), which is Rs 98,000 crore.

The budget estimate in 2021-22 was Rs 73,000 crore- over 34% less than what was actually spent on the scheme in 2020-21. According to the latest budget documents, the government had spent 1.1 lakh crore on the scheme in the pandemic year 2020-21.

The Budget estimate of MNREGA last year and this is the same. The revised estimate for last year, however, is indicative of a possible rise in demand for these jobs under what is the world's largest public works programme.

In December 2018, 1.9 crore households had demanded work under MNREGA. In December 2019, that dipped slightly to 1.7 crore households. But by December 2020 - the year of the prolonged lockdown -- there was a big jump in the number of households demanding work, to 2.7 crore. Last December, the demand for work continued to remain higher than pre-pandemic levels, at 2.4 crore.

The programme, which gives 100 days of guaranteed work to every household in rural India, became the go-to for those who lost their earnings when a lockdown to fight Covid shut down offices, shops and factories for months.

Banker Naina Lal Kidwai said government-subsidized housing projects and the infrastructure push could also help create more jobs for rural workers.

"It is a jigsaw. It is quite possible that we will see rural jobs go up irrespective of MNREGA if the capex projects and affordable housing projects will also create jobs. Hard to pass a comment on individual numbers, but on the face of it, for a highly successful scheme like MNREGA to see a reduction is a little puzzling at this stage, given that we still have so much stress on the system," Ms Kidwai said.