The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, NREGA is a flagship programme of the UPA government which guarantees employment up to 100 days for the rural poor with a statutory minimum wage of Rs.100 per day. According to many political analysts, the NREGA was instrumental in the UPA’s return to power in the centre in 2009. This model of rural growth was revolutionary because of its base principles of Inclusive Growth, right to work and a rational centre-state relationship immaterial of the ruling party. But has it really delivered? That’s the big question.
I am not an expert on NREGA, nor do I claim to be one. This report of mine is based on the analysis of several reports that have appeared in reputed leading national dailies since the implementation of the act. Let me start by giving the differences between the NREGA and several other poverty eradication programmes. The main point here is transparency. A worker getting his wages under the NREGA is, in most cases aware of his fees and hence cannot be cheated directly by the government officials. Even then there have been instances of endemic corruption, which I will explain below. Since most of the reports that I have researched are of a localised nature, I am presenting a state wise analysis comprising of a few select states here.
AP has been a model state as far as the NREGA is concerned. The state government here has taken numerous measures to provide transparency in the process. For example, all the NREGA wages in AP are paid through post offices. Here the payment is facilitated through an agency (the post office) which is separate from the implementing agency. This helps in preventing corruption on a large scale. This must act as a model for other states where the implementing agency gives out the wages, thus leading to ‘babugiri’.
Orissa has been a state which has been plagued by mass corruption in NREGA funds. The system here has been virtually unverifiable by 3rd party organizations who wanted to check the effects of NREGA. The good news here is that the state government has finally woken up to the centre’s call and is in the process of ensuring that there are routine checks and a proper balance is maintained. More recent reports state that the corruption has come down significantly over the past few years.
The scenario here is much worse than that in Orissa. Some reports suggest that around a third of the funds are leaked. This can be prevented only with regular checks by non implementing agencies. There has been no decline in corruption over the past few years.
The government here has initiated a unique method of preventing embezzlement by requiring each worker to enter his/her signature or thumbprint on the muster roll everyday to verify attendance, thus preventing the pocketing of funds by officials. These muster rolls are available for scrutiny at the site of work, thus enabling transparency.
Concluding, I can say that corruption can be rooted out from the NREGA if all the guidelines mentioned in the official act are strictly implemented by the state governments. For example, the method adopted by the TN government is already mentioned in the guidelines of the act, but seldom followed, with TN being the only state to do so. Also, swift and immediate action must be taken wherever corruption has been exposed, thus ensuring a better rural growth and economic development.
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