Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh: Anchekatti Rangaswamy, 19, is shifting large rocks from the acres of barren farm land on the outskirts of Yerraguntla, a village 65 km from Kurnool, the gateway to Andhra Pradesh’s drought-prone Rayalaseema region.
The work he does during his summer break from college will make the rocky land, belonging to marginal farmers in the area, slightly more cultivable.
M Gopinath Reddy, Professor at the centre for economic and social studies in Hyderabad talks about how implementation of the MGNREGS has taken a unique turn in Andhra Pradesh
And the wages the teenager will earn from the job under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) will go towards realizing his dream of attaining a management degree and becoming a corporate executive.
Click here to view a slideshow about the MNREGS in Andhra Pradesh
“I need at least Rs8,000 for my college fees and books in B.Com last year and I hope to earn at least Rs4,000 during this summer vacation through MGNREGA wages,” says Rangaswamy.
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Rangaswamy is employed with his mother and relatives in clearing the stretch of 250 acres where the MGNREGA work is being undertaken. Many poor households in the Rayalaseema region, prone to prolonged droughts and plagued by poverty, have benefited from MGNREGA, which offers 100 days of work a year to at least one member of every rural family in the country.
The region includes the three most drought-prone districts of Kurnool, Ananthapur and Kadapa.
Andhra Pradesh is considered among the top performers under MGNREGA, generating more than 320 million person- days of employment and receiving Rs3,781 crore of funds from the scheme in 2009-10.
What makes the Andhra Pradesh experiment interesting is not just the impressive performance metrics. Unlike in most other states, MGNREGA pursues a different delivery model in Andhra Pradesh and has yet proven to be successful.
The selection as well as execution of a project is undertaken by a village organization made up of members nominated by block-level bureaucrat, a departure from the normal practice of vesting such decision-making powers in the local panchayat, or village council.
Gaining an alternative
Kurnool had been ranked at the top once and second twice in the last three years of MGNREGA implementation, based on key parameters among 22 districts of Andhra Pradesh. The district has 1.567 million adults enrolled under the scheme and issued job cards.
Like Rangaswamy, other teenagers in the 1,522 villages of Kurnool nurse ambitions of higher education and white collar jobs.
Ground realities: MGNREGA workers levelling agricultural land of marginal farmers at Yerraguntla village in Kurnool district. Bharat Sai / Mint
Those who could not afford to continue their studies are now heading the groups of wage seekers assisting MGNREGA officials in planning and executing projects under the programme that has begun to reorder employment patterns in the region.
Men from Yerraguntla now have an alternative to taking up potentially hazardous work in the mine quarries located at Chinna Malkapuram, some 4km from their village.
Similarly, women, accompanied by children, no longer migrate to neighbouring districts seeking employment in the farms cultivating cotton and chillies. Their livelihood has improved so much so that several small farmers and landless labourers say they can now pay their debts, build permanent houses and and educate their children.
In Kurnool district, women outnumber men in wage employment and many of them, like in Rajasthan, are joining the workforce for the first time. As many as 334,000 women got wage employment last year, compared with 308,000 men.
“Now my family no more migrates and we are able to get jobs that fetch good earnings where we now live,” said Sheik Thahera, a 19- year-old woman. “More than anything, we women are for the first time seeing wages on a par with men.”
Interestingly, the success of MGNREGA in Andhra Pradesh has been brought about without the intervention of the panchayats. This is partly to do with the recent political history of the state wherein the panchayats have seen their power diminish at the expense of alternative local bodies.
On average, there are at least 10-15 such stakeholder bodies or active parallel bodies in each village including irrigation committees, parents committees and health committees.
Though Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) had constitutional backing, their powers were reduced over the years, and as a result the village organizations became more powerful with annual budgets that are healthier than those of the PRIs.
M. Gopinath Reddy, a professor at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies, says that this trend has continued in the implementation of the job guarantee scheme as well.
Reddy observes that neither the PRIs nor the parallel institutions were allowed to play a role in the implementation of MGNREGA and the bureaucrats instead preferred to build another parallel machinery that decides the projects and gets them ratified at the gram sabha (village assembly). He adds that the planning, execution and supervision of MGNREGA in Andhra Pradesh has become more a departmental affair and PRIs have no statutory role to play.
“No gram sabha and no sarpanch would ever say no to the works proposed to be taken up in their jurisdiction...,” says Reddy.
However, the success of the model, an analyst points out, depends crucially on the government’s commitment to the programme.
“So far the state government has shown keen interest and hence the bureaucracy has delivered. This cannot be taken for granted,” said the person, who is closely associated with MGNREGA, but who declined to be identified.
This is the fourth of a five-part MGNREGA status report.
Next: Shortcomings in implementing MGRNEGA in the poverty-afflicted district of Kalahandi, Orissa.