[Analysis]: The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act – Recent ICT Innovations
By Arpita Sharma:
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) aims at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing hundred days of wage-employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. MGNREGA has a right-based framework, unlike earlier employment generation programmes. Its demand-based entitlements stem from the fundamental right “to live with dignity”, and set it apart from other cash conditional transfers, as well as a social safety net, dependent on Government benefaction.
The act has a bifocal lens, as the instrumentality of work generates employment and productive assets. The process of implementation seeks to strengthen decentralized democratic governance, promote equity and empower rural communities. The MGNREGA was notified on 2nd February 2006 in 200 districts, extended to additional 130 districts in April 2007, and thereafter notified in the remaining rural areas of the country in April 2008. The Act spans 619 districts, 6400 Blocks, 6 lakh villages and around 2.35 lakh village Panchayats.
Over the last four years, the performance of the Scheme compares favourably with other antipoverty initiatives that India has undertaken. Since its inception, Rs. 101387.6 Crore has been released to States/UTs. The total expenditure was Rs. 98486.46 Crore of which Rs. 66976.91 Crore was given as wages (i.e. 68%). 800 Crore person-days have been generated and the number of works undertaken have exceeded 45.5.lakhs. More than 50% of the works taken up are related to water conservation.
Measures for Government Reform and Transparency
A number of measures towards governance reform have been imitated as summarized below: (1) strengthening administrative systems through additional dedicated personnel, (2) strengthening the Gram Panchayat (GP) through funds and functionaries, (3) streamlining financial systems, (4) opening workers’ accounts in banks and Post Offices (about 90 million such accounts have been opened) (4) intensive monitoring, (5) imitating district Ombudsman (6) attempting to make social audits more inclusive (7) setting up a web-based Management Information System(MIS). The large scale of operations, the limitations of outreach of various services and the need to handle large volumes of information in a transparent manner necessitated the use of ICT in program delivery. ICT facilities, both to support Gram Panchayat and block officer of Program Officer (PO) as well as public access to information and online transactions are being promoted.
Management Information System
Successful implementation of MGNREGA seriously depends on the establishment and operationalization of a proper computer-based Management Information System (MIS) that interconnects all the Gram Panchayats, Blocks, Districts, States and the Union Ministry through an ICT network.
A web-enabled MIS www.nrega.nic.in has been developed. This makes data transparent and available in the public domain to be equally accessed by all. The village level household data base has internal checks for ensuring consistency and conformity to normative processes. It includes separate pages for approximately 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats, 6465 Blocks, 619 Districts and 34 States & UTs. The portal places complete transaction level data in public domain for example – Job cards, Demand for work and Muster rolls which is attendance-cum-payment sheet for worker. All critical parameters get monitored in public domain: (1) Workers’ entitlement data and documents such as Registration, job cards, muster rolls Work selection and execution data including, shelf of approved and sanctioned works, work estimates, works under execution, measurement (2) Employment demanded and provided (3) Financial indicators such as funds available, funds used, and the disaggregated structure of fund utilizations to assess the amount paid as wages, materials and administrative expenses. Since the MIS places all critical data on the web and this data is software engineered, it has significant advantages in terms of transparency as it allows cross verification of records and generation of reports on any parameter of the Act. The various stakeholders of the project are: (1) Citizens (2) Gram Panchayats, Block Panchayats and Zilla Panchayats (3) Workers (4) Program Officers (5) District Program Coordinators (6) Implementing agencies other than PRIs (7) State RD Departments and (8) the Ministry of Rural development and administrators in Government of India.
Vision and Objective of the Project (1) NREGAsoft (the MIS system) envisions implementing e-Governance across State, District and three tiers of Panchayati Raj Institutions. (2) It empowers the common man using information technology as a facilitator. (3) NREGAsoft provides information to citizen in compliance with the right to information Act (RTI Act). It makes available all the documents like Muster Rolls, registration application register, job card/employment register/muster roll issue register, muster roll receipt register which are hidden from public otherwise. (4) To facilitate faster information exchange between the various stakeholders through the network.
MGNREGA Help Line: The Department of Rural Development (DRD), Government of India proposes to establish a network of Helplines under MGNREGA at the National, State, District and Block levels for facilitating the redressal of grievances in relation to the implementation of the MGNREGA Scheme. The Helpline consists of a toll free MTNL number (1800 110 707) that will be used by the MGNREGA households and other individuals and groups to raise their questions, submit their grievances and complaints and seek guidance from the Department of Rural Development. On receipt of the calls, Department of Rural Development intends to resolve the grievances by requesting the field level MGNREGA Authorities to take suitable remedial action and obtain feed-back. Action on each complaint needs to be ensured and pending complaints need to be closely monitored. The operations will run with the use of latest information and communication technology to provide solutions to complainants on a real time basis. Through the same helpline, the operations will run with the use of latest information and communication technology (ICT) to provide solutions to queries and/or complainants on a real time basis.
Arpita Sharma is Doctoral Research Scholar in the Dept. of Agricultural Communication of G. B. Pant University at Pantnagar.