In a village in Uttar Pradesh, about 150 kms from the national capital, Roshan Kumar is looking for work under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) scheme. The rural employment scheme has been scaled up in the state to accommodate around 30 lakh migrant families who have returned to the state following the lockdown announced to control the spread of coronavirus. But it is not just the migrants who are looking for daily jobs under the scheme.
"I used to do a job and earn decent money but I was asked to leave after the lockdown," said Mr Kumar, who holds a MA degree.
Roshan Kumar is among the graduates and post graduates who are willing to do labour intensive jobs like digging ponds and laying rural roads, a job done by unskilled labourers.
"I have a BBA degree and but I have not got any decent work. Finally, I landed a job worth Rs 6,000-7,000 a month and then the lockdown happened and even that job went away. So, I returned to my village and my gram pradhan (village head) helped me get a MGNREGA job," says Satendra Kumar, who holds a BBA degree.
Surjit Kumar, MA Graduate, adds that he was left with no other choice but to take up the job. " I have a MA and a B.ed degree and before I could look for a job the lockdown was imposed," he says.
Before the lockdown there were an average of 20 MGNREGA workers on a day. Now that number has gone up to over 100 a day of which at least one fifth are degree holders or those who lost their jobs in the lockdown.
The Yogi Adityanath government has scaled up MGNREGA to provide jobs to 30 lakh migrants who have returned to the state.
"Those who lost jobs and livelihoods in the lockdown are also applying for MGNREGA work," says Virendra Singh, a Village Head in Junaidpur.
About 14 crore people across the country have MGNREGA job cards. The government will need a massive Rs 2.8 lakh crore if each card holder can get a guaranteed 100 days of work this year.
Says Economist Reetika Khera, "More budget is needed to ensure MGNREGA job cards get jobs. The government should ensure that every person who seeks work under the MNREGA should get it".
At least 35 lakh people across the country have applied for MGNREGA since April 1, the highest for this decade.
Last month, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while detailing upon the fifth and final tranche of measures under the "Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan" package, allocated an additional amount of Rs 40,000 crore under the MGNREGA, over and above the budget estimate of Rs 60,000 crore for the current financial year.
The additional funds, Ms Sitharaman said, will help "generate nearly 300 crore person days" during the current financial year.