As the second wave of Covid sweeps through Punjab, particularly devastating the state’s rural areas and their economy, the National Rural Employment Generation Scheme (NREGS) has come as the silver lining in the cloud for the state.
NREGS, if the initial trends are to be believed, has been a ray of hope for thousands living in the pandemic-affected villages, providing jobs to them and in the process lending a helping hand in the revival of both the rural infrastructure and rural economy.
The unpredictable employment situation owing to the pandemic has led the state government to be flooded with demands for work under NREGA. The state, records showed, has already generated 31.48 lakh persondays of work in just the first 42 days (April 1 to May 12) of this financial year (2021-22).
The state has fixed a target of spending Rs 1500 crores, same as last year, under the scheme this year also.
Data sourced from the department of Rural Development and Panchayats from April to May 12 showed that around 31.48 lakh persondays have been generated from April 1 to May 12 this year. Compared to this, last year only 17.17 lakh persondays could be generated in the first two months (April and May) when there was complete lockdown but NREGS work continued unabated.
The Punjab government, records showed, has provided employment to 2.61 lakh households in this financial year so far, against 9.54 lakh households in the entire financial year last year.
Till date, at least 2.92 lakh individuals have worked under NREGS, against a total of 11.85 lakh in the entire financial year last year.
Out of total person-days, 55.2 per cent are of women person-days, records showed. The state has taken up 1.34 lakh total number of works this year, which includes both new and spillover from last year. Out of this, 1.32 lakh works was going on and 2415 have already been completed.
“We have launched a pond re-modelling drive prior to the monsoons. This will provide livelihood opportunities to rural poor as part of Covid mitigation strategy, as well as lead to beautification of ponds,” said Seema Jain, Additional Chief secretary Cum Financial Commissioner Rural Development and Panchayats Punjab. She added that nearly 13,000 ponds will be taken up as part of this special drive launched by RDP minister.
“Due to Covid, people do not want to move out of their houses which has caused a huge demand of work under NREGS this year too. We have been doing regular follow-up with the Centre so as to achieve this year’s target,” said Sumeet Jarangal, Joint Development Commissioner (JDC) Rural Development.
Meanwhile, in Punjab, around 20.3 lakh job cards have been issued this year, against 18.28 lakh job cards last year. Around 12.12 lakh job cards are active at the moment, against 10.81 lakh last year. There are a total 15.81 lakh active workers currently, out of which 67.44 per cent are Schedule caste workers. There are 13,326 gram panchayats out of which 2558 gram panchayats had not made any expenditure under NREGS till the time.
Projects under MNREGA have two components — labour and material — with a rider that labour must be at least 60% with the balance being the material. In the material component for some works listed under NREGS, the Punjab government also contributes 25% share against 75% of the Central government.
Covid year achievements under NREGS
Last year, the Department of Rural Development was assigned a Labour Budget (LB) target of 250 lakh persondays by the Government of India for FY 2020-21 and expenditure of Rs 800 crore was projected to be achieved. The state thsi time has revised the targets considering the financial stimulus package announced by the Central government.
The Centre, accordingly approved a target of 360 lakh persondays pertaining to Rs. 1500 crore. The department has worked consistently and achieved 62% additional expenditure and 60% additional persondays from previous FY (2019-20) which is highest ever expenditure in history of the state, said Jarangal.
Last year 375 lakh persondays, which were the highest ever, were created in the entire year against 277 lakh, 256, lakh, 231 lakh and 137 Lakh in 2019-20, 2018-19, 2017-18, 2016-17, respectively. Similarly, Rs 1241 crores were spent under the scheme against Rs. 767 crores, Rs. 669 crores, Rs. 638 crores and Rs. 531 crores in 2019-20, 2018-19, 2017-18, 2016-17, respectively.
The state had registered success in various parameters — including a 257% increase in the number of job cardholders who had completed 100 days of employment, 800% increase in the total number of individual benefitted with sheds, 34% increase in number of new job card holders, 30% increase in number of individuals worked in lakhs and 26% and 12% increase in total number of household provided employment and timely wage payments, respectively.
The department has launched the scheme of deployment of “VAN MITTARS ” for the maintenance of plantations done under NREGS and for every 200 plants, 1 van mittar was deployed for a period of 100 days. A total of 25000 van mittars were deployed. In case of construction of sheds for livestock of NREGS job card holders, beneficiary share of 40% was brought down to 0%.