New Delhi: The Planning Commission has suggested that jobs created under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, or NREGA, be linked to productivity in order to boost the programme’s potential.
At the same time, it recommends better training for field staff as well as increasing awareness in relatively poorer states.
Extending reach: NREGA was extended to all 596 districts in the 2008 Budget. The Act is a welfare initiative that promises at least 100 days of work in a year to one member of a poor rural family.
“It is reasonable to conclude, for the present, that productivity enhancement has received less attention than it should. There is even a concern among those implementing the programme, that the two objectives may be in conflict,” says a report made by the rural development division of the Planning Commission.
The NREG Scheme, India’s flagship welfare initiative, promises at least 100 days of work in a year to one member of a poor rural family. In the 2008 Budget, the programme was extended to all 596 districts. Four-fifths of jobs created under NREGS are in the area of water conservation, land development and drought-proofing.
Jobs created under NREGA are largely done on land belonging to members of the scheduled castes (SC), scheduled tribes (ST) and those below the poverty line (BPL). According to the report, to meet the twin objective of improving the lot of SC, ST and BPL families, and land productivity, it is necessary that jobs created under NREGA are productivity-linked.
It also suggests bringing lands of marginal and small farmers for job creation by involving farmers themselves.
“The idea is just to create short-term job employment and that’s what the government is doing,” says Laveesh Bhandari of Indicus Analytics Pvt. Ltd. “It has nothing to do with productivity enhancement and long term benefits to those associated with the programme.”
The report also recommends that an interface be created between NREGS’ water conservation and related Central programmes, such as watershed development programmes be created.
“Without convergence, we will not see productivity in agriculture output in rain-fed areas, on which 60% of total cultivable land is dependent,” said Santosh Mehrotra, senior consultant for rural development at the Commission .
The report also suggests that poorer states, such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, have not implemented the programme as effectively as some of the better-off states.
For instance, according to the report, from April to December, while Rajasthan created highest number of man-days of employment, at 85 per household, Bihar could manage just 35 and Uttar Pradesh only 32.
“The programme was especially successful in areas that receive scanty rainfall in western Rajasthan, where people have be pulled together to construct check dams and deepen water dams,” says Rajasthan’s rural development secretary Rajendra Bhanawat.
His counterpart in Uttar Pradesh, J.N. Chamber, said the “actual work done is less, so they’ve received lower wages too.”
While the Act requires that at least one-third of the beneficiaries be women, in UP only 14% of the employed were women, in West Bengal 16%, Bihar 19% and Assam 23%. Bihar, UP and Assam are also states lagging behind in training staff for implementing the programme along with Orissa.
The scheme, which started being implemented two years ago, has drawn public criticism for delivery failures, forging of record books, financial leakages, and even lack of coordination between government agencies spending on rural development.
The Comptroller Auditor General of India, the agency that provides accounting services to government-owned companies, earlier said in its report that only 18 days of employment were created, instead of 100, among registered households.