28 May 2014

Mahatma Gandhi NREGA (MGNREGS) : Why it is necessary for Rural Development?

Total population of India-1.27 Billion
Total Rural Population- 0.8 Billion (68% of total population)
Percentage of population dependent on agriculture: - 60% (of total population)
Average growth rate of GDP: - 6 % (last 10 years)
Agriculture growth rate: – 2-3% (last 10 years)
Average agricultural wages before MNREGA – 50 to 70 (in INR)
Average agricultural wages after MNREGA – 120 to 140 (in INR)
Average wages construction workers – 200 to 400 (in INR)

“Agricultural wages are the most important determinants for the poverty in India”
                   Montek Singh Ahluwalia - Ex. DC - Planning Commission

As we see the above data which clearly supports Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s comments. His famous statement came in 1980s and thirty years later NREGA is launched as a demand driven employment scheme by Dr. Manmohan Singh government. I will elaborate point wise the positive points of NREGA and why it can be used as a necessary tool for rural development. At the end I will try to find out what are the issues in the implementation part that needs to be addressed.

Mahatma-Gandhi-NREGA-(MGNREGS)
India is the second largest country in the world and it accounts for highest bunch of poor people in the world. It stands poorly at 136th position in Human development index out of 187 countries. Human development index (HDI), is annually done by United Nations which assesses long-term progress in health, education and income indicators. Being the 3rd largest economy in the world this is indeed a shame to be so below in this list. We are behind Sri Lanka and Iraq in the list and slightly above Pakistan. Being the leader in agricultural production of Rice, Wheat, Milk and many food products in world we must analyze what went wrong. We design software for the world; we are the largest market for many businesses and allowed too many companies to make billions by running business in our country after liberalization but why the share of profit didn’t reach to the poor. Why the impact of liberalization is still not benefitting the poor in India. Why the gap of purchasing power per capita increases in every census. Why the benefits of liberalization didn’t reach to the poor.

First we need to think who is poor in this country. The person who is still dependent on agriculture for his earnings has remained poor since decades. Due to their low income they don’t have access to higher education and that keep them ineligible for a skilled job. They have only option to work in agriculture sector and earn least wages offered by big farmers and landlords.  Due to low wages offered and non-availability of work in all seasons they migrate to other parts of the country and exploited by Mahajans. Whenever I sat on a rickshaw in Kamlanagar or in Delhi university area I asked them about their native place. They mostly come from Bihar, UP and West Bengal. When I asked them about the reasons of migration some of them said we don’t have work in agriculture in our villages that’s why we are working here. Somebody had the complaints about the low wages paid in agriculture and they don’t have skill to do other job. In one line I can say NREGA is only for them.

MNREGA has increased agricultural wages provided agricultural workers an option in villages. It enabled them to say NO to farmers who exploited their families in past. It enabled them to negotiate with the Mahajans on the wage rate which automatically resulted in increase of wage rate and purchasing power of workers. But it is still not enough to save money for the education of their children and provide social security for their next generation. But one thing is sure the condition will be different if they will be provided with at least 100 days of employment within 5 kms of their house. The current average is 40-50 days of employment in the country.
Rural-Development-Mahatma-Gandhi-NREGA-MNREGA
There is a visible evidence of community assets due to MNREGA if you visit a village in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh or Bihar. MNREGA is demand driven program with least focus on skill building. The quality of roads made under this scheme is not good but we can see “Kharanja” roads being made in villages. The first phase of MNREGA has focused mainly on roads and irrigation facility which is a great success in Rajasthan. Now the time has come to merge it with Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), Total Sanitation Campaign, use of water as a resource, Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) and drinking water facility of villages etc.

Due to MNREGA distress migration has come down. This has clear evidence in famous statements made by the Chief Ministers of Punjab and Haryana “there is considerable decrease in number of agricultural labors coming from Bihar in last 2-3 seasons”. No availability of migrants has definitely raised the wages charged by local labors and increased the number of days of works for both. This is one of the best things about MNREGA.

One of the invisible effects of MNREGA is the empowerment of weakest section. When you get a job and that too in the vicinity of your home it empowers all of us. For the poor they get regular money and that raised their purchasing power. Social empowerment is directly proportional to economic empowerment which is directly proportional to purchasing power. MNREGA has raised the confidence of poor by doing this.

Rural-Development-Mahatma-Gandhi-NREGA-(MGNREGS)
Another positive aspect of MGNREGA is that in some parts of India it is the only source of cash for the rural HHs. Take the example of desert districts of Rajasthan. They don’t have agriculture and can’t keep livestock due to extreme weather conditions. They don’t get work as a wage labor so they are only left with this scheme to suffice for the requirement of the cash.
The biggest challenge to MNREGA is the corruption. The common forms of corruption visible are
  • Delay in payments
  • Fake job cards
  • Bribe for job card
  • Bribe for work
The challenge of corruption and the persons involved in it would be booked by the use of technology and increased awareness. If a MNREGA worker will know everything about the scheme he will definitely oppose to the bribes. Apart from this we need to have an Ombudsman in every district to receive and solve complaints of MNREGA.

Rural-Development-Mahatma-Gandhi-NREGA-(MGNREGS)

There are another negative aspects of MNREGA is about bad skill growth of the workers under this scheme which results as bad quality of work. Roads built under MNREGA do not last for more than 2-3 years. But this can be corrected by merging it with other government schemes. It will ensure the implementation of other schemes as well as skill enhancement of MNREGA workers.

100-days-Mahatma-Gandhi-NREGA-(MGNREGS)The biggest challenge what I see is with the implementation part. This is the scheme which is implemented directly through Gram Panchayats. Gram Panchayats in poor states are not technically good. The program is implemented without building the capacity of Gram Sabha. We need to train the Gram Panchayats first about the scheme and make them understand how it can end poverty from their panchayats. We have to raise the willingness of gram panchayats to implement MNREGA effectively so that we can reduce poverty level to a considerable extent. If we will be able to provide them at least 100 days of work which is the core thinking behind the program it will definitely reduce poverty and make India Shining.

What is MGNREGS?  

MGNREGS is one of the flagship programmes of Government of India which guarantees 100 days of employment to all citizen with a minimum wage rate specified every year. The scheme was launched in 2005 and started on 2nd February 2006 with 200 districts and on 1st April 2008 all districts has been covered.

How much useful and efficient do you think MGNREGS is?

How it can be implemented more effectively? What actions government should take?

What are the other Gov. Schemes which can be used for the same purpose?

(Written by Bibhu Mishra, an alumnus of NIRD (National Institute of Rural Development), Hyderabad and currently working as a Project Coordinator at ICICI Rural Self Employment Training Institute,Jodhpur)







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