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MNREGA: Aspiration versus Implementation

Naba Kishor Pujari
National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has been passed by the Indian Parliament in the year 2005. The NREGA bill essentially guarantees employment for the unemployed in rural areas for 100 days in a year, through work such as building roads, improving water supply and works that are necessary to improve infrastructure in rural areas. The uniqueness of this bill is in the fact that it carries emphasis on issues like equality of wages for men and women, elimination of work contracting/middlemen, payment of wages only through bank and post office accounts to prevent corruption, creating transparency in workers muster rolls etc. The recent enhancement of workdays by Union Minister Jayaram Ramesh from 100 days to 150 days for tribals will definitely contribute towards strengthening local economy but the centrality of this move is quite debatable as the Government is analyzing the effectiveness of NREGA only in terms of increasing the wage payments provided and not concentrating on the development assets created.
NREGA was launched in Odisha on 2nd February, 2006. In the first phase, 19 districts were covered in the state but now it is being implemented in all 30 districts with effect from 1st April,2008. The expenditure in Odisha under MGNREGA in 2012-13 was Rs 1,181 crore and expenditure estimated for 2013-14 was Rs 1,515.79 crore. However, concerns were raised by Union Minister of Rural Development Mr. Jayaram Ramesh over the lower participation of women in MGNREGA in the state, which was at a low around 36 per cent against 70 per cent in Rajasthan. He also raised issues as per the Management Information Systems (MIS) of his ministry, wages amounting to Rs 216 crore, which is 41 per cent of the total wage payment, had been delayed by over 15 days by the state government while Rs 29 crore out of the total wage payments was delayed by over 60 days.
As per the physical performance report of NREGA in Odisha (Upto January 2014), out of 1383897 households, the percentage of households completed 100 workdays is only 3.72. It is low in comparison to Andhra Pradesh (8.5per cent), Bihar (4.4per cent) and Chhattisgarh (9.58per cent). The district level performance is also not encouraging in terms of 100 days completion of work. The Districts affected by the Phailin and its subsequent flood such as Ganjam (2.91per cent),  Mayurbhanj (7.92per cent), Puri (8.5per cent)  and tribal populated districts like Koraput (2.6per cent), Kandhamal (7.46per cent), Malkangiri (1.96per cent), Sundergarh (7.31per cent) and Nabarangpur (1.7 per cent) have also been lagging behind its target.
Despite NREGA being an ambitious Act in terms of its objective, several governance issues persist in it which needs to be addressed in order to make it meaningful for implementation. As the Act is a demand driven one, work under NREGA is available only after a demand for job is created by the people. But practically, lack of awareness about the Act continues to be a major concern as it has become detrimental to the successful participation in the scheme. Delay in wage payment has also been a major challenge of NREGA. Recently, e-banking facility has been initiated in Odisha for payment of wages through banks and post offices but it is being reportedly delayed in transfer of money to the accounts of beneficiaries. Poor worksite facility has also been an compelling factor for distraction of people from NGERA. In most of the villages where NREGA work is being initiated, worksite facilities like Crèche, drinking water, first aid and shade is not provided.
Even though the Act reveals that distressed migration can be checked through implementation of the Act but it has not been realized in full. The accumulation of distress by end of the rainy days force them to go to the labor contractors to borrow some advance to repay the rainy days debt and look for a new migration avenue. Especially in many villages which are worst affected by Phailin and its subsequent flood, people are unprecedentedly having lean period as their source of income has been stopped in many ways.
 Cash for Work-A model for NREGA
Cash for Work (CFW) is a wage based programme like NREGA which was initiated in Ganjam, Puri, and Mayurbhanj which was worst hit by Phailin.  ActionAid led consortium which comprises Oxfam, Plan, Christian Aid and ADRA with the support from European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO) implemented the programme with their local partners. It was basically designed to provide 50 days’ work to the most affected households with one hundred and fifty rupees wage per day to the beneficiaries.
The programme also focused its efforts to create a platform where ownership of productive resource to women, their participation and leadership role in community development initiative was the main target. Apart from that, the type of work such as individual house repairing, pond renovation is being taken in CFW which is scarcely been embraced in NREGA. While asked on its modalities, Mr. Debabrat Patra revealed, “NREGA work should start as soon as possible in the disaster affected villages as they need it the most. Also, the local administration should ensure them for 100 days of work so that they can avail the additional 50 workdays. The Cash For work can only provide wages for 50 days but then, NREGA is to be implemented”.

There is nothing wrong in the Act itself but the Government should come out with a revised guideline which will superintend its work and implementation. NREGA must catch up people’s development imagination and focus on its development effectiveness rather than counting the wage payment. The attraction towards NREGA will only happen if NREGA work surfaces with a creative touch and will be based upon the need of the local people.

About the author

Naba Kishor Pujari, The author works as documentation Officer (Media and Communication) in ActionAid


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