New Delhi: The government will form a panel of “eminent citizens” to objectively evaluate the implementation of its flagship welfare programme, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which has been plagued by complaints of sloppy execution and graft.
The ministry of rural development has invited applications from former civil servants and judges, established academicians and social activists to join the panel.
After a screening process, 100 citizens will be selected and sent out across the country to periodically assess if the scheme’s benefits were reaching the rural poor.
“The objective of this exercise is to encourage greater public participation in making this scheme more accountable and effective,” said a ministry official, who did not want to be identified.
Under the scanner? A file photo of villagers employed under NREGA at Jhargram, West Bengal. The ministry’s screening process is to encourage public participation in making this scheme accountable and effective. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint
“We put out the advertisement at the end of December, and have received 150 applications so far,” he added.
NREGA, which was recently renamed the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA, promises 100 days of work every year to at least one adult member of every rural household at a minimum wage.
Launched in 2005, it has faced criticism for delayed wage payments, corruption, non-issuance of job cards and the use of funds for non-permissible activities.
The ministry has come up with a budget estimate of Rs55 lakh per year for the new monitoring scheme.
Each of the 100 citizens selected for the panel would be allotted one district to monitor, where they would have to spend six days at a time.
“The panel will be valid for two years and fresh panel will be created for the next two years thereafter with new members on a continuous basis,” stated an internal office order issued on 27 November.
Those who can apply include retired judges of the Supreme Court and high courts, retired secretary-level officers, retired vice-chancellors of universities, nationally/internationally recognized social activists, retired members of the defence forces above the rank of brigadier, and so on.
“The selected citizens will be paid TA/DA allowances (travel and dearness allowance) at par with what is applicable to secretary-rank officers,” the ministry official said.
“Each of them will have to come back with a report as well as suggestions about the implementation of the scheme there,” he added.
But an expert doubted if this was the right way to assess the success of NREGA.
S.L. Rao, sociologist and former director general of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, said a panel of 100 distinguished citizens sounded impressive, but was not ideally suited for such a job.
“There are several problems with this. For instance, it depends on whom you get. Age is an important concern and someone in their 70s might not be able to do as much running around,” he said.
Rao added it was imperative that the citizens knew the essentials of NREGA before they could evaluate its execution.
Also, the qualifications laid down by the ministry meant people with administrative and academic backgrounds, with little knowledge of field research, would be on the panel, he claimed.
“Rather than having eminent citizens, it makes more sense to have six or seven top market research agencies monitor the scheme’s implementation. These investigators must also be supervised by, say, acommittee of a few top-notch people with a background of field research,” Rao said. “This is how the government will get much better information.”