The UPA government’s Aam Aadmi scheme – Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act – has seen falling allocation lately. Two years ago it received the highest allocation of Rs 40,000 crores; now Rs 33,000 which was the same as last year’s. Many believe that the NREGA (as the scheme was known then and until Oct 2, 2009) helped the UPA get its second term. It offers a legal guarantee to provide employment if there is demand. But strangely the employment provided to the rural poor is falling under NREGA: 284 crore person days in 2009-10, it went down to 257 crore in 2010-11 and now 216 crore person days in 2011-12.
While the program is widely touted as designed for livelihood security of the rural poor, the biggest challenge has been the creation of productive assets. Lacks of unfinished projects put a question mark on the manner in which the funds have been utilized. Over half of the 151 lakh projects taken up in 2010-11, whether digging water ponds or construction of roads – are still incomplete after two years.
By now shortcomings in the implementation of MGNREGA are amply clear. They point to the need for strengthening the PRIs through capacity building, raising awareness about MGNREGA and various rights it offers to the workers, strengthening project selection and planning at the grassroot level, consistent hammering on corrupt practices, creation of useful assets, strengthening social audit mechanisms, and keeping political influence away from the program.
On the healthier side, the Ministry of Rural Development is adding additional projects to enable development of SC/ST lands and construction of toilets and anganwadis under the scheme. In fact, MGNREGA should not be seen as an independent scheme merely for rural employment. It has the potential to revolutionize democracy by providing inclusive economic growth. It also has the capacity to obliterate the plethora of cast and regional divides and provide dignified livelihood to women, elderly and the disabled. Women participation is particularly poor in the northern region. By providing further teeth to the social audits and accountability measures, MGNREGA offers direct empowerment to the weaker and marginalized sections of Indian society.
MGNREGA has another healthy dimension. About 70% of works under the MGNREGA are “green jobs” such as water harvesting, afforestation and land development. The program is not only an anti-poverty project that also yields co-benefits of adaptation to climate change and reduction of vulnerabilities against climate change. Needless to say that the poor are also the most vulnerable towards climate change adverse effects. Ironically, the poor NREGA workers are working towards sustainable green development that the rich have failed to do.
The 100 days of employment as offered by the scheme has remained grossly under-utilized is evident from the fact that the household who came forward to work received on an average less than 50 days of work: 48 days (2008-09), 54 days (2009-10), 47 days (2010-11) and 42 days (2011-12). There are several reasons for this: reluctance of gram Panchayats to take work under MGNREGA because it adds to their burden besides being ill equipped to plan projects; demand of bribery to approve projects by higher officials, lack of awareness among poor people about entitlements MGNREGA offers them, and so on.
The slake attitude and some of the states and the implementing officials has been jokingly described in some circles: JO NAREGA KAREGA WHO MAREGA, JO NAHI KAREGA WHO BHI MAREGA — Those who implement nrega will get into trouble and those who do not will also be in trouble. One major problem has been that the NREGA is a demand driven program, but the implementing bodies continue to remain in the supply mode.
Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu are the top states in implementation of MGNREGA. There is need to analyze there are laggards and how to cox them into action.
Proper implementation of MGNREGA invariably goes through strengthening the PRIs and that means providing depth to the grassroot democracy in the country. Hence lessons learned so far should go into making the MGNREGA – 2 a far bigger success.
Click here for a detailed PDF report: MGNREGA Status 2006 – 12