New Delhi: Demand for work under the national rural employment guarantee scheme saw a major jump in the financial year 2018-19 with 257 crore person-days of work being generated, putting it at an eight year high. The last time the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS)had generated a similar number of person days was in 2010-11.

The average days of employment provided per household in 2018-19 was 49.61, seen as one of the highest in recent years.

Analysts say that the spike in demand is seen an indicator of rural distress despite measures by the National Democratic Alliance government support the agriculture sector including raising of minimum support prices of crops and a slew of welfare measures for farmers including programmes like the crop insurance scheme.

Recognising the distress in the rural sector, the NDA government had in the February budget announced the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme, that promised an annual assured income of 6,000 for any farmer who owns up to 2 hectares of farmland. An estimated 120 million land-owning farmer households were expected to benefit from the scheme. In the budget announced in February, the MGNREGS had been allocated 60,000 crores with the government promising more resources for this programme if needed.

According to one rural development ministry official, the increase in demand in 2018-19 is due to some states like Jharkhand and Karnataka seeking help on account of drought conditions with the ministry announcing an increase of 50 days of work ie a total of 150 days of work in most districts of Jharkhand and Karnataka. Additional work also had to be provided for in states like Rajasthan, Odisha, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh as well as flood-hit Kerala.

Numbers available on the Rural development ministry website on Wednesday show that in 2018-19, the number of person days of employment created under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme had jumped to touch 257.01 crore person days, up from 233 crore person-days in 2017-18 and 235 crore person days each in 2016-17 and 2015-16. In 2014-15, the first year under of the NDA government, the person-days generated was 166 crore.

The highest number of person days of work to be generated under MGNREGS was in 2009-10 when 283.6 crore person-days of work was created.

MGNREGA is a demand-driven social security scheme that provides for 100 days of work per rural household with the number of work-days allowed to be increased to 150 annually in case of drought, flood or a similar calamity.

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