Friday, March 13, 2009

Introspecting NREGS

National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme introduced as fresh employment scheme by the Government of India, which treats employment as a right and the program is conceived to be demand-driven. It will worthwhile to note that NREGS is entirely different in its conception as well as in execution pattern. Essentially it’s a step forward for social inclusion.
NREGS has potential to transform rural socio-economic mode of relations at different levels. Obviously NREGS essentially challenges the prevailing power structures. NREGS is necessarily “inclusive” at the most basic level in economic terms. Partial success of scheme is a sources of optimism. Despite having huge variation in participation in states. NREGS present optimism at national level.

Share Of Women : -
India’s(36.2%) in total rural workforce,48.9% in NREGS,differences-12.7%
Share of SCs-16.2% in total population, 30.9% in NREGS.differences-14.7
Share of STs-8.1% in total population, 24.1% in NREGS, differences-16%
(Sources-NSS 2004,NREGS Report on January 2008,Census 2001)

Participation of women shows inclusive potential of the program NREGS which involves a very fine gender balance which enabling a large number of them for institutional finance. Such involvement of womens in NREGS is likely to be positively reshape the gender configuration. High participation of SC in NREGS is quite natural as they lack access to means of property, their's share are similarly disproportionate among rural laborers and any other employment program of government.
Moreover,such high participation of STs in program is quite amazing. Because neither Geographical nor previous track records with other scheme was so conducive. Huge participation of STs at national level is a very encouraging sign of success for NREGS.

This trend is worth of admiration. Since the initial 200 districts were chosen on the basis of their backwardness and these tend to be tribal dominated areas as well as in many states,so it may not be surprising that STs have been so magnificently working in NREGS at the aggregate state level.Partial success of NREGS does not ensure a rosy path ahead. Institutions and Individuals are rapidly involved in the arena of corruption. The tremendous potential of the scheme is in danger of being wasted in some states.
There is too much scope for introspection to deal with massive corruption. There prevails a very low consciousness among the workers to their rights. Even 30 percent among them are exactly aware about their rights and their entitlement to 100 days of employment per year under the Act. This powerlessness is also due to the absence of any effective grievances redressal system for NREGS.

Effective presence of IT facilities in rural areas and unorganized civil society vitally determined the state of affairs. Weakness of local governance, also substantially affected the successful enactment of NREGS, this case is very strong in Jharkhand where Gram Panchayat elections have not been held since the enactment of 73rd &74th amendments of the constitution.
Jean Dreeze in his introspection of NREGS found some factors, which rapidly ails the system. These are: -
1.A repressive state people
2.Helplessness of working people
3.Lack of system to redress grievances
4.Absence of Gram Panchayats
5.Casual attitude of government

There are some key restraint before the NREGS. These maladies needs immediate checkout by strong measures by Peoples institutions through appropriate technology, skill development, leveraging market and adequate public investment.NREGS is a major source of domestic demand, which is very crucial for Indian Economy in present circumstances to come out from global financial downturn. Now it is time to realize that NREGS is about more than equity, it is also a very useful macroeconomic weapon against the economic slump and recession .
A strong civil society has off course plays very crucial role, though there effects are not alone enough. In a very lucid inquiry; Mihir Shah & Pramathesh Ambasa (Hindu, Sep 8,2008) found the success of NREGS. Social audit in Andhra Pradesh covering 12 million people is a brilliant example of civil society action, enriching mainstream politics.

In Andhra Pradesh, a fine understanding exists between peoples institution like Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Shangthan(MKSS)& Government. Besides this a separate existence of social audit is another favourable condition which enabled Andhra Pradesh to get breakthrough in NREGS implementation.The MKSS led by Aruna Roy, one of architects of NREGS introduced the concept of social audit into development practices nearly two decades ago. But even in Rajasthan, where MKSS started its work could not meet with same achievements to mainstreaming social audits.
A social audits of 17 NREGS Works in five Gram Panchayats of Deoghar district (Jharkhand),conducted on 12-16th October 2008,revealed some alarming facts related to discrepancies in bank payments .Lot of manipulated bank accounts were found which strengthen the chances of corrupt involvement of institutions like bank. So, it raises question marks on bank payments and Direct Cash Transfer(DCT) to cope with the corruption in NREGS.

Before NREGS, Indira Awas yozna(IAY) used to avail the DCT, where its proved inadequate to cope with corruption because biased involvement of government officials and middlemen’s.Situation is absolutely puzzling how to deal fairly with cash transaction during a project. For policy makers, it still remains a distant dream. Indeed DCT system is most improved solution till now; Economist like Arvind Subramanian even regards DCT as the “first best option “to address poverty in India.
Infact there shall be major concern towards growing violence in its path-like tragic death of Tapas Sen ,who immolated himself in Hazaribagh to protest against official harassment.Mode of NREGS functioning raises serious question against the partial functioning of authorities.

Violence during the project are quite rampant .Brutal murders of two NREGS activist (Lalit Mehta and Kameshwar Yadav) during a survey of NREGS initiated by the G.B .Pant Social Science Institute in Palamu and Kodarama districts left a frightening scar over the program.
Still a lot of fight is needed with such oddity to overcome from imposed hurdles. The NREGS has huge potential to enhance socio-economic dynamicism in country which makes alone suffice to makes its utility evident. Let us hope for more breakthrough…

Atul Kumar Thakur
New Delhi
March 2009

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