NREGA- The Road Ahead

A group of researchers working with Samaj Pragati Sahayog in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh writing in the latest issue of EPW (alternate link) focus on how the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) marks a shift from any earlier rural development schemes and how it needs to progress. They assess the learning from the last two years of its implementation and forcefully reiterate why it must be implemented, and not scrapped.

Some of the key things that they highlight are:

  • it is a development programme and not a dole programme chipping in with crucial public investments for creation of durable public assets. Its emphasis on water conservation, drought and flood proofing is critical for rural transformation in the most backward areas of the country
  • it makes a complete break with past practices of hiring contractors, the worst oppressors of the rural worker
  • There is a meticulous process for social audit
  • An unprecedented emphasis on transparency and social audits

The key challenges in implementing the scheme in some of the districts that the researchers have surveyed are:

  • Lack of professionals and under- staffing in fulfilling the scheme. At many places staff has not been appointed at all or NREGS responsibilities have been added to existing staff like BDOs and JEs. They quote the recent CAG report that finds that 52% of the 513 gram panchayats it surveyed had not appointed EGAs (Employment Guarantee Assistant)
  • Bureaucratic delays
  • Lack of peoples’ planning and grassroots social activism
  • Inappropriate payment rates since the NREGA uses the old Schedule of rates meant for work through contractors and makes it difficult for gram panchayats to cost work
  • No real social audits taking place at the grassroots level

There are quite a few proposals that the paper makes for speeding up delivery as promised by the NREGA. These include staffing the scheme appropriately (the paper provides a detailed calculation for costing), creating personnel capacity by introducing 1 year diploma courses for implementing the NREGA and above all recommend the use of information technology to bypass bureaucratic delays and provide transparency.

They conclude:

Over the last 20 years, governments so committed to an agenda of reforms for the corporates, appear to have absolutely nothing to offer to their main constituency, the rural poor. On the contrary, with the pressure on the state to shrink, expansion in scale of programmes is increasingly attempted using under-paid, poorly qualified “worker-volunteers”.5 Corners must be cut when it comes to the rural poor. Anything for them, it appears, can be of the lowest quality. Of course, we must also recognise that even during the Nehru-era, rural development was never seen as a professional activity. The legacy of Gandhian anti-state anarchism, where people know best and can manage their affairs on their own, without any external help, only reinforced this tendency.The left, fighting for the very right of the public sector to survive, appears to have become so defensive as to completely overlook the need for reforms, long overdue in a sector marked by massive corruption and complete non-accountability towards the “public”.

The NREGA ranks among the most powerful initiatives ever undertaken for transformation of rural livelihoods in India. The unprecedented commitment of financial resources is matched only by its imaginative architecture that promises a radically fresh programme of rural development. However, for NREGA to realise its potential, it must focus on raising the productivity of agriculture in India’s most backward regions. This can then lead further to the creation of allied livelihoods on the foundation of water security. This is also the only way we can envision a decline in the size of the work guarantee over time, as public investment under NREGA leads to higher rural incomes, that in turn spurs private investment and greater incomes and employment

Read the full paper at EPW or here. 

Link to Govt of India’s site on NREGA

Related Post: A Chinese Road for Rural India

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8 Replies to “NREGA- The Road Ahead”

  1. the main problem as mentioned in the comments on the earlier post on the chinese road is that of corruption. all the beautiful architecture of the NREGA is not working because of corruption. this corruption is linked to the way democracy functions in india. where it requires a lot of money to win elections even that of a lowly panch or sarpanch and all the way up to that of a member of parliament. it is through corruption and siphoning off of public funds that the elected representatives build up their campaign funds and also their assets. challenging this corruption thus means the way power is grabbed in india. so while the NREGA has been implemented because of the upsurge in rural areas it has nevertheless led to the funds going to the leaders of the rural upsurge in the form of panches and sarpanches and not to the masses. when one tries to challenge this power structure one comes up against the state forces as earlier peasant or worker uprisings have done. in barwani district of madhya pradesh the members of the mass organisation “jagrit dalit adivasi sangathan” were beaten up and false criminal cases lodged against them when they tried to get the NREGA implemented as it should be. ultimately thus it boils down to building up strong grassroots parties that are capable of fighting long battles against the state. meaning long stints in jail, long court cases and deep pockets to bear the expenses of all this. this is one aspect that the samaj pragati sahayog people have consistently skirted not only in their writings but also in their work in the field. liberal democracy as i have shown recently in my post on the rural poor as part of the blogbharati spotlight series is all very nice in theory but when it comes to practice i am afraid marx’s criticism of its hypocrisy is 100% correct even today.

  2. I do not disagree with much of what you say. It is indeed interesting to see that corruption and red- tapeism holds up anything to do for the welfare of the poor, while the same thing does not seem to be a problem (and is ignored by the middle classes) when it comes to allocating resources for the corporates (e.g. 1,34,000 acres of land has been earmarked for SEZs), one can only imagine the extent of the corruption behind the ‘housing’ boom.

    What I liked about this article is its critical optimism and its reasoning on why the program must continue. All said and done it does mark a break from the post- independence policies towards rural India.

  3. While I agree that we need a social safety net, it appears that from this piece that NREGs is a false dawn.

    # There is a meticulous process for social audit
    Vs
    # Lack of peoples’ planning and grassroots social activism
    # No real social audits taking place at the grassroots level

    Looks like it is more comfort to the elite than the people who are supposed to be helped by this.

    On another level, is there any data on the usefulness of the assets produced through NREGS?
    Focus on that and on an integrated program of training / skills development might make NREGS more useful

  4. Having the NREGA is a step forward, there would be challenges and no doubt that impact on the target is marginal. However, it need not be stopped simply because of bureaucracy and middle men. Reform of the implementation structure has to be done in tandem with schemes like this, one cannot precede the other.

  5. (a) Audits must be made mandatory
    (b) Emphasize asset creation
    (c) The villagers must have a say in deciding what assets they need

  6. THE INDIAN GOVT IS DIVERTING FROM THE BASIC PROBLEM OF INDIA.THAT”S THERE HAVE NO LANDMARK PLANS AND AND SCHEME GOVT IS ADOPTED.THE MANREGA IS AT THE NAME OF ‘FATHER OF NATION’GANGHI WOULD WEEPING AND CRYING AND ALSO LAUGHING AT THE THE WORST CONDITION OF THEIR COUNTRY.MANREGA’S IMPLEMENTATION IS 0.BUREAUOCRACY IS BECOMING RICHER AND REACHER AT THE COST OF THE INCOME TAX PAYER.IT IS A GREAT TRADEGY FOR INDIA.CORRUPTION IS AT HIGH LEVEL.GOVT IS SAYING THAT HE IS TAKING STERN STEPS.BUT NOTHINGH.ANNA’S MOVEMENT IS SILENT.RAJA BHAYA BECAME CABINET MINSTER IN U.P.THE GREAT ADMINSTRATOR LIKE MAYAWATI WAS REJECTED BY PEOPLE.PEOPLE ARE UNABLE TO IDENTIFY THE GOOD LEADER .ONLY SLOGAN AND SPEECHEES CAN NOT SOLVE THIS PROBLEM,FOR THE SOLUTION OF THIS PROBLEM ,IT IS THE DUTY OF THE EVERY CITIZEN OF THE COUNTRY HE OR SHE SHOW ZEROTOLERATION REGARDING CORRUPTION.ONLY THEN WE BECANA A PERMANENT MEMBER OG U.N.O.AND BECOME A CITIZEN OF DEVELOP NATION.

  7. Prof. Harish saroha you are a greater thinker of India. I congratulate to you this type of thinking for our nation.

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