If there is one state where the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) has been a resounding success, it is Andhra Pradesh. This has been possible because of some key success factors that made the implementation near flawless.
These include support from the political and bureaucratic leadership and built-in safeguards for failproof implementation, which provide for speedy registration of eligible candidates, without fear or favour. It is pertinent to note here that the programme was monitored by the Rashtriya Grameena Abhivruddi Samacharam (RAGAS), a grass-roots rural outfit, in partnership with Tata Consultancy Services, and in collaboration with the state rural development department. This structured model (it has no precedent in India) made speedy registration of the wage seeker, who is at the centre of the operations, possible. It ensured that leakages are eliminated or at least minimized, as well as open access to information to all stakeholders and citizens. The model also enabled transaction-based reliable, timely and comparable information. It allowed tracking of every single rupee spent, and monitoring of time and cost overruns. RAGAS enables the rural wage seeker at the bottom rung of the economic ladder to access entitlements of NREGS by handling registration, work estimates, muster rolls and wage payments to ensure timely disbursements.
A major complaint all over India is about delays and corruption in payment of the prescribed fair wage. In Andhra Pradesh, payments are made within a week of completion of the previous week’s work. How does this happen?
By the last (sixth) day of a week, the measurement sheets and the muster rolls of the entire week are closed and delivered at the mandal (sub-block) computer centre. The next day the muster data are fed into the computer and the cheques are prepared. On Day 8, the pay orders are generated, and by Day 10, these are deposited in workers’ post office accounts. By Day 13, the workers can draw their wages from their post office accounts. Since the computer system is linked end to end, the status of any work registered through the system is visible and can be verified.
This model keeps track of the work from the day the work ID is generated, and any delay/default in payment becomes easily visible. This network of data can be accessed at www.nrega.ap.gov.in
The system facilitates public scrutiny ensuring tranparency and social audit. Information from the grass roots reaches the top administrators in a jiffy.
The social audit is stringent here. A periodic public meeting is a regular feature at the mandal headquarters. It is attended by people from every village and their elected representatives, the media, the NREGS functionaries and senior government officers. Village-wise social audit findings are read out at such meetings as well. This is as much a forum for fixing responsibility for lapses, as for action taken reports—both bouquets and brickbats.
The magnitude of the scheme in Andhra Pradesh can be judged by the following: By the first week of January, 923,46.6 million works worth Rs824,937.86 lakh have been estimated and sanctioned, and around 338,812 works are in progress.
The stakeholders, public at large, the media and NGOs are able to play the effective watchdog, because the system facilitates that.
NREGS’ goal is of empowering 18 million poor in 65,000 villages spread over 275,000km in the country, and preventing the malaise of discrimination, inequitable wages among men and women, delayed and less than entitled payments, and ensuring sustainable development of degraded lands even in remote areas. For achievement of such a big goal, the nitty-gritties are key. Such packages must be minutely tailored for the beneficiaries.
V.B.N. Ram retired as a senior executive in the corporate sector.Comment at email@example.com