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10 Years Of NREGA: How Has Our Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme Performed?

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By Swati Narayan, IndiaSpend.com:

NREGA2_620The fruits of a people’s movement and the world’s largest anti-poverty public works, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) last year provided employment to 22% of all rural homes.

At its peak five years ago, it was a lifeline for 55 million, or one in every three rural homes.

But it has yet to expand to its full potential. Up to 70% of interested poor households did not receive any NREGA work between 2004-05 and 2011-12, reports the India Human Development Survey 2 (IHDS2).

Unemployment allowance, stipulated in the law, has also rarely been paid as a substitute. Nevertheless, for recipient families, 32% of their poverty decline comes from NREGA alone, according to IHDS2.

Why NREGA Is Currently Not An Effective Drought-Relief Measure

Under the law, promulgated in 2005, each household is guaranteed 100 days of work every year. But, on average, each NREGA household received only 45 days of work over the last decade–less than half the guarantee.

The lowest average was last year: 38 days. Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal clocked in even less.

So, it is ironic that recently the Central government has expanded the guarantee to 150 days of work in 14 drought-affected states. Odisha further increased the cap to 200 days.

But this does not work as a drought-relief measure, as only 4% of employed households hit the 100-day mark last year. At its peak, too, only 14% have ever received 100 days of work. Worse, the total nationwide person-days–a measure of NREGA employment–almost halved in 2014-15 (1.49 billion), compared to its peak five years ago (2.84 billion).

The law also stipulates that wages are to be paid within 15 days. Last year, 72% of wages were delayed. This year, no more than 45% of wages have been paid on time. In the midst of a drought, villagers who survive hand-to-mouth cannot afford to wait. Compensation for delayed payment is also rare.

In several states, such as Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan, NREGA wages are lower than the minimum wages for unskilled agricultural work, which makes it difficult to attract workers, especially the youth, who often prefer to migrate to urban areas. Yet, this safety net has bolstered their bargaining power even on distant shores, as scores of Bihari migrants will testify.

NREGA Especially Helps Women, Dalits And Tribals

“Earlier, we had never seen Rs 500 notes; now we have more than Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000 as our bank balance,” Sunil Munda, an Adivasi from Sanramlai village in eastern Odisha recounted six years ago. “Now, if we have malaria, we can take an auto and go to the hospital for treatment. Earlier, if herbs didn’t work, we knew we would be dead. We hadn’t seen the doors of the hospital.”

On a more positive front, 40% of households employed under the law are impoverished Dalits and Adivasis, even without any explicit targeting. The IDHS2 attributes 38% and 28% reduction in poverty in employed Dalit and Adivasi (tribal) homes, respectively, to NREGA alone.

As importantly, in India’s patriarchal society, the NREGA has emerged as a torchbearer for women’s empowerment. As many as 55% NREGA workers in 2014-15 were women, and their participation has soared 38% over the last decade.

Predictably (since they are states with high female literacy and social emancipation), Kerala and Tamil Nadu top the charts, with as many as 92% and 86% of NREGA workers being women.

Even before the Jan Dhan Yojana, the NREGA had opened 100 million bank accounts, often used by women for their wages, often for the first time, and on par with men.

Note: In 2006-7 NREGA was applicable in only 200 backward districts, in 2007-08, it was extended to 330 districts, and, from 2008-09, implemented across India.
 

There has also been much hand-wringing about the quality of NREGA work. A deeper look reveals that 28% of works, even in 2013-14, were to improve rural sanitation, even before the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Another 30% were for water conservation, flood control, drought proofing and micro-irrigation.

More than half the works were ‘green jobs’ directly related to improving agricultural productivity.

For example, the Institute for Human Development shows a high completion rate, with a 6% rate of return for about 100,000 wells sanctioned in Jharkhand.

The Maharashtra government’s Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan to make 5,000 villages drought-free also depends on the NREGA. In another ingenious initiative, Tamil Nadu has employed 60,000 Thuimai Kavalars (sanitation workers) under NREGA across three-fourth of villages. In Karnataka, NREGA workers have even been employed to manufacture environment-friendly earthen bricks. These tasks are a far cry from digging and filling trenches.

And So, To The Next Decade

Despite the Prime Minister’s mockery of the lifeline in Parliament last year, the Bharatiya Janata Party, at the 10th anniversary celebration of NREGA, hailed it as the nation’s “pride.”

NREGA3_300
Workers in Tripura.

Tripura is the only state to offer urban dwellers guaranteed employment. With the tide turning, the clamour has now begun for its nationwide replication.

The next decade holds much promise for the right to work.

This article was originally published on IndiaSpend.com, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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