New Delhi: A Planning Commission evaluation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) has questioned the effectiveness of projects implemented under the Act in boosting productivity and creating assets.
NREGA, the Union government’s flagship anti-poverty programme that promises 100 days of employment every year to the rural poor, is partly credited with driving the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to victory in the April-May general election.
In a presentation made at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office (PMO) on Wednesday, the Planning Commission highlights the dearth of technical and professional support for implementing projects under NREGA, delays in payments to workers, and issues of corruption and leakages. Mint has reviewed part of this report.
Most of the jobs created under the Act are in the area of water conservation, land development and drought proofing. While NREGA is implemented by the ministry of rural development, its progress is also monitored by the Planning Commission.
“The report has also found out poor implementation in states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The idea of the meeting was to appraise officials at PMO on the problems arising in the implementation of the programme,” said a government official. He did want to be identified or divulge more details of the report.
NREGA, now re-christened Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Act, came into being in 2005.
The commission says in the report that payments to workers are being delayed as there is a late measurement of work. It also says only 19% of the 850,000 differently abled people registered for the scheme have got work under NREGA.
Another issue is that of fake muster rolls and bills being generated, the commission says.
It adds that so-called elite groups within the workers capture most of the job cards.
Jobs cards are given to workers to enrol them for projects under NREGA.
The report is based on feedback from the Planning Commission’s advisers who toured the villages to study the implementation of UPA’s flagship programmes.
One such official said workers were moving away from their main activity, agriculture, and “are digging pits in the name of ponds under NREGA... Water from these pits evaporate very fast”.
The official, who didn’t want to be named, said there was corruption in implementing the programmes and no real asset was being created.
The Planning Commission, however, lauds NREGA’s achievements in some respects. It says the scheme created three billion person-days of work in 2009-10 against 86 million person-days in 2003-04 through other programmes such as food for work.
The report also says 50 million families are likely to get work in 2009-10 with an expenditure of Rs40,000 crore.
S.L. Rao, former director general of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, who recently visited Bihar to have a feel of NREGA, says the figures have to be impressive as it is a vast and innovative programme.
“But then, it is also one of the most abused programmes, where everybody who is getting the chance to make money is making (it)...there are long- and short-term solutions to make NREGA more effective,” he said.
In the short run, the government can start some policing by creating a roving team of, say, retired police officers to ensure that the needy get the job cards, the workers are paid fully, substantial asset is created and no particular group is favoured, said Rao.
In the long run, he suggests the panchayats (local self-government bodies) should be empowered to create capacity and train officials to implement the programme.
“In Bihar, I observed that it was people of the dominant caste who got the job cards whereas the Dalits (members of a socially and economically backward caste) have been denied participation,” said Rao. “It’s not a surprise that Bihar has lagged behind in implementation.”