New Delhi: On the day India’s flagship welfare programme—the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or NREGS—was extended to cover the entire country, the rural development minister admitted its implementation was “marred with problems.”
“The programme was marred by problems in implementation,” minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said on Tuesday after a meeting at his ministry that decided to bring all districts in the country under the scheme.
He, however, added that “the programme will be free of all problems and difficulties by the end of this financial year (2008-09)”.
Now in its third year of implementation, the scheme has drawn flak from various quarters, with India’s auditor of government accounts Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) pointing at several lacunae in the way it has been executed.
Raghuvansh Prasad Singh says the programme will be free of all problems and difficulties by the end of this financial year
The minister sought to play these down, saying they were “only aberrations due to some local problems.”
India’s largest ever welfare programme began on 2 February 2006 in 200 poorly developed districts after Parliament passed the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in 2005, which provides a legal guarantee for 100 days of employment in every financial year to adult members of any rural household willing to do unskilled manual work at the statutory minimum wage.
The government on 15 May 2007 added 130 districts to the scheme. Including the remaining 266 districts now completes the coverage.
NREGS has provided employment to 3.08 crore households during 2007-08, compared with demand for employment for 3.10 crore households, ministry data released on Tuesday shows.
“On an average, each household was provided 40 person days of employment, with the total coming to 122 crore person days of work,” the minister said.
The government has spent Rs13,101.50 crore till the beginning of this financial year, out of Rs17,948 crore available. India’s Union Budget for 2008-09 has allotted Rs16,000 crore for the scheme.
The CAG, which studied the performance of the scheme in 68 districts of 26 states, reported irregularities such as diversion of funds and mention of work that did not exist, and lack of proper reviewing and oversight mechanisms.
The auditor’s report had also mentioned non-implementation of various procedures by state governments, including delays in setting up state employment guarantee councils and commissioners, embezzlement of funds, and non-achievement of employment objectives.
“The lack of adequate administrative and technical resource support at the district, block (sub-district) and GP (gram panchayat or village council) levels adversely affected the smooth and effective implementation of NREGA,” CAG’s report, released in January, had said.