Erratic rains force farm labour to stick to NREGS

New Delhi: In an unusual trend, demand for work under the government’s flagship rural job scheme grew at a fast pace in the monsoon season this fiscal year while remaining subdued in the key summer months when such demand typically stays elevated, according to the official data.

This suggests erratic seasonal rains this year have prevented the typical large-scale migration of rural workers into farming, forcing them to hold on to work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), experts said.

Work demand from individuals under the MGNREGS, which had moderated marginally in the June quarter, grew in the range of 9.5% to 19.5% each month between July and October from a year before, driving up the expenditure under the programme, showed the preliminary data compiled by the rural development ministry.

In October, it grew 17.8%, with 21.95 million people having sought work, against 18.64 million a year before. Similarly, 18.38 million households opted for work in October, up 18.3% from a year before.

Elevated NREGS work demand adds to a raft of indicators-including subdued sales of FMCG firms in rural areas and muted non-durables output-that signal rural consumption demand will likely take more time to recover, some experts said. However, the job scheme is a handy tool for tackling any rural distress, they added.

India witnessed “below normal” monsoon in 2023, the first in four years, as overall rainfall touched 94% of a benchmark long period average.

Adding to the monsoon woes, the depth of industrial recovery, too, remained far from impressive this fiscal year, keeping a large section of workforce dependent on other sectors of the economy, the experts said. Despite a 10.3% surge in August, industrial output grew 6.1% in the first five months of this fiscal, lower than 7.7% a year before.

Person-days generated under the scheme rose 8.8% between April and October from a year earlier to almost 2.05 billion.

The data typically get revised as and when updated information flows in.

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