By Akanksha Mittal:
The UPA government revived the almost redundant NREGA in the year 2009, giving its name the support of the Mahatma of the country and it was renamed Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act. While the world wonders how merely a change of name can work wonders for an iskeem (scheme), the UPA basks in the glory of the statistical progress that the Act shows! Two years of the effective functioning of the revised Act are enough for the people to know that the MGREGA promises 100 days of employment to one adult member of rural families. The workers work as daily wage laborers and are paid Rs. 95-100 per day, in the various Indian states such as Rajasthan, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh etc where the scheme is in operation.
Quoting a few facts and figures; Haryana’s average daily wage rate has increased to Rs. 179, the accolades for which is accredited to the effective implementation of MGREGA. According to the official MGREGA website, the Danta district of Bhilwara, Rajasthan has been able to combat migration of rural men and women to cities, thanks to the NREGA which was implemented in the district. A 2010 report by Livemint.com states, “Till January, 481,912 households had been given NREGA job cards in Bhilwara district and 386,734 provided employment under the scheme. Of these, 116,095 have completed 100 days of work this fiscal.” The official facts about Andhra Pradesh give a very promising picture. In Andhra Pradesh, the maximum difference between average wage rates amongst various groups such as men, women, SC, ST etc is a minimal 2.66%.
It is commendable how 80% of the population employed under this Act is women. This leads to contribution of supplementary income to households, over and above the incomes of the male members. Further, according to the data, of the 31,91,742 works taken up under the Act so far, 25.14 per cent pertained to water conservation and water harvesting in rural areas. Apart from the regular construction jobs available under NREGA, MGREGA is diversifying into providing various other kinds of jobs related to agriculture, water resources, land resources, forests and rural roads.
However, workers in Rajasthan often complain of the wages being paid to them with a time lag of 3 – 4 months while the official deadline for the payment of wages is 15 days. Although payment to wage laborers is made through Post Office accounts, audits in cities of Rajasthan have revealed that a lot of money is credited to false accounts of persons who either do not exist or have no knowledge of the money being transferred to their accounts. Moreover, in states like Bihar and Chhattisgarh, the numbers of NREGA days of work per household are still a far cry from being fruitful for the households.
Essentially, the scheme is a powerful tool to combat poverty and unemployment from the rural sector, just like most other schemes that our government so often comes up with. What matters here is, how well is it implemented? Considering that the revised version of the scheme is just two years old, there is a lot of positive response towards the efficient functioning of the scheme. The enthusiastic presence of NGO’s such as the Foundation for Ecological Security and others which conduct regular audits in NREGA districts and take active interest in its functioning can actually help the scheme from going haywire. Apart from that, all we can really do is wait and watch when the sudden interest of the world deviates from rural poverty to something perhaps more lucrative for the vote bank.