Monday, August 31, 2009

Revisiting NREGA

In a short span of time National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) emerged as one of most profound government scheme for addressing the socio-economic plights of poor and marginalized rural workforce and infrastructure. NREGA introduced the finest example of cash for work model in India with some distinctness but same rudimentary propositions like some cash transfer programmes in other countries; Oportunidades (Mexico), Social Protection Network(Nicargua), Bolsa Escola and PETI(Brazil), Family Assignment Programme(RAF-Honduras), Chile Solidario (Chile) and Programme of Advancement through Health and Education(Jamaica).
These all implementation are in respective fields and making choices available to the poor beneficiaries.The NREGA evolved out of a political response to relentless people’s movement and the articulated needs of rural workers; indeed civil campaigns has been playing crucial role in its enactment and further in their functioning.

The NREGS is the first employment generation Programme in the country that holds socio-economic rights in a statutory framework and paves a comprehensive nexus between the mass rural workforce and the state authority which layout not only the NREGS albeit also a solid stride of democratic governance. It must be an exaggeration to expect from the partial success of this rural employment Programme to address all the hurdles of vast rural economy even though it’s a universal truth that NREGS has increased the bargaining power of rural farm and other workforce.
On many front NREGS have enhanced the prospect of revivals in rural economy but magnitude of its performances has been found uneven through region wise evaluation of its impacts on respective milieu. Despite this NREGS involves in creating productive assets, enhancing purchasing power, strengthening the Panchayats (Institution of local self governance) besides encouraging new height of transparency.

With broadening the horizons of NREGS it also raised the concern for medium and small marginal farmers as they are coping with higher and competitive labour costs for the farming; surely it’s a positive outlook in many ways but the deficiency of a rational support price, inclusive institutional credit facilities. Crop insurance, subsidies on basic inputs, cross border trade management etc are some haunting issues which jeopardizing the conditions of farmers.
This is a major issue before the government (Both the Central and State) to enabled these farmers through additional financial stimulous by that they would be able to sustain fetching the farm labourers in competitive scenario of rural labour market.

Governments must show better accountability to innovate and broaden the NREGS Programme to the other productive sectors which would further left the assumption that all poor are ready and willing to engage in physical work only. Such innovated NREGS Programme would be entrusted with the more meticulous and varied opportunities to lessen the vulnerability of literate rural unemployed. Implementation of this innovated employment guarantee Programme may come out with various challenges. The potential beneficiaries are expected to be the crucial issue that would be needed an innovative proposition in handling by the policy makers and governments as well.
Implementation of last fifty years of development programmes could make some sense in forming amicable solution of people’s entitlement that also broaden the stimulus and meet the human and social needs of diversified population.

First of all it’s most imperative to expand the existing works under NREGS and make enabling provisions to employing educated unemployed persons as support staff for the NREGS which would also fulfilled the shortage of staffs in projects. There also existed huge chances of spurting entrepreneurship with absorbing literate workforce for more useful productions which would left with finer implications like checking the outbound migration to urban areas; so NREGS could be used to maintain a fine balance and would retrieve the lost glory of Indian villages.
It may be unanimous view at least in proposition that NREGS bears the great entitlement with large pools of marginalized rural workforce that seems nearer to the Amartya Sen’s entitlement theory ‘That lack of access to food (Goods and Services) rather than failure in food supply leads to famines’ necessitated the importance of entitlement; fortunately which is core of NREGS programme.

NREGS holds very healthy composition of workforce; fifty percent of workers are women and rest of workforce consisted with majority of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, so its aim of socio-economic empowerment is much focused and well structured. Despite having many goods things in its wish list, this programme suffering from routinely violation by authorities which fudging its proper success at execution level.
Delay of payment, absence of work in stipulated time, late redressal of grievances are some of alarming happening in the execution of NREGS; social scientist and activist like Jean Dreeze have made excellent effort to unleash the various payments related discrepancies in Jharkhand. Today it’s imperative to make NREGS work efficiently and wipeout its functional maladies rather than blindly amending it.Attempts of Ministry of Rural Development to craft the format of “NREGA2” should be introduced only with a long range of debates that must involves its core constituents and ensure the basic foundation of NREGA more strengthened. The focus should be concentrated on demand based availability within the stipulated time frame without any frills and its further extension of 100 days work into a regular mode of job. Indeed with great commitments and vision this target is achievable.

Atul Kumar Thakur
31stAugust 2009, New Delhi

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