The pandemic mayhem in Odisha's rural employment generation looks very critical. Bereft of any jobs, and with their livelihood at stake, the demand for unskilled jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in the State during the month of June had shot to the highest-ever in the rural job scheme's history.
As per the data available with the Union Rural Development Ministry (MGNREGS), the work demand during June in Odisha had touched a high of over 16.04 lakh households. But the State government could provide jobs to only 15.01 lakh households.
What seems very concerning is, households demanding unskilled jobs under the scheme in June alone had been around 58 per cent of the total of 27.43 lakh households who demanded work under MGNREGS since April this year.
Significantly, the number of households who demanded jobs was only 25.8 lakh in 2019-20, and it was only 23.8 lakh in 2018-19.
The Pandemic Link
Experts see a link between the unprecedented rise in demand for jobs under the rural job scheme and rural employment scenario growing acute. Data also supports the same.
As per the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy's (CMIE) lockdown data, the unemployment rate in Odisha was around mere 2 per cent (1.9%) in April. However, by May-end, following the enforcement of the lockdown in the State, the unemployment rate had shot up to touch over 7 per cent.
Moreover, a data analysis over the years shows that when in 2018-19 and 2019-20, the households demanding work during Apri- June (summer months) had been in the range of 14-20 lakh, the number grew sharply to 31 lakh during the first wave and to 40 lakh in the second wave.
"Usually, in every summer, the demand for work under the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has been higher due to decline in rural employment opportunities. But the comparative data shows that households demanding work during the pandemic period have been ultra-high during the pandemic years. This shows there is a severe crunch in job opportunities in rural areas," explained XIMB Prof Neeraj Kumar.
More Concerning Numbers
In contrast to the projected person-days of over 3.9 crore for the year 2021-22, the actual person-days generated till June end in the State had been a humongous 7.7crore. The actual man-days generated till June had been over 197 per cent of the full projection for the year. The month of June alone had generated over 2.73 cr man-days.
- The starvation for jobs can be ascertained from the fact that nearly 3 members from each household had demanded jobs under NREGS this year as against 2 during the first wave.
- Odisha tops the country in overshooting the projected generation of man-days for the year 2021-22.
- In the first three months, over 50.1k households had been provided with 100 days of employment, which is the highest ever in MGNREGS history in the State.
Hotspot Rural Districts
As per the data available, the demand for work under MGNREGA decreased between April - June in only two districts - Ganjam and Mayubhanj. But the number of households demanding jobs under the rural scheme in the industrially developed district Sundargarh rose to over 1.33 lakh in June from 80k in April.
Keonjhar and Bolangir districts had also witnessed a big rise in job demand under the rural household scheme during the second wave. Among the coastal hotspots, households who demanded work in the Khordha district increased to over 24k in June from around 12k in April. Similarly, the number was up at over 51k in Cuttack from 30k in April.