Naxal-hit districts perform well in rural job scheme

Naxal-hit districts perform well in rural job scheme

New Delhi: Some of the districts hit by India’s biggest internal security threat seem to have done as well or better than the rest of the country in one key development-related aspect, according to the government.

Unlike other welfare schemes that fail to take off in any significant way in these areas, the performance of the flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in 31 districts, around one-third of the total Naxal-affected ones, across eight states was better than the national average on some counts and almost matched it on others in the year ended March. The eight states include Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh.

The data from the rural development ministry comes amid divisions within the Congress party, which heads the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, over balancing the approach between pushing development to the people or cracking down hard on the Maoist rebels and their sympathisers.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the insurgency is the country’s deadliest internal threat to security.

Home minister P. Chidambaram has said he is constrained from taking strong action against the groups, which have stepped up their attacks on the security forces, civilians and public property in the past few months.

Others such as Congress party leader Digvijay Singh have criticized the home minister and advocated against taking a hard line, saying economic development and empowerment are the keys to resolving the issue.

According to the rural development ministry, which oversees the scheme, the average wage paid per person-days in 2009-10 was higher in the Naxal-affected areas at Rs92.31 against the national average of Rs90.71. This is higher than the previous year’s Rs81.52 in the districts, lower than the national average of Rs84.13

At least 46% of the activities taken up under the scheme in these 31 districts, among the 33 worst-hit by the insurgency, were completed last year, while the corresponding national average was marginally lower at 45.52%. Further, the percentage of wages disbursed through post office/bank accounts was higher in these districts with nearly 98% of the wages (on average) being paid through them in the last fiscal. The corresponding national average was 84%.

The Act guarantees 100 days of manual work to each rural household in a year and was partly credited with bringing the UPA back to power in the general election last year. The scheme, launched in 2005-06, now covers 619 districts across the country and has a current budget allocation of 40,100 crore.

The ministry’s data said the Naxal-affected districts in 2009-10 on average spent around 65% of the cash under the scheme in paying wages, slightly lower than the national average of 68%. In terms of female employment as well, the Naxal-hit areas didn’t lag far behind, with 45% of workers under the scheme being women against a national average of 49%.

A total of 2,950,707 households were provided employment across the 31 districts last year, of which 281,653, or nearly 10%, completed 100 days of employment. The corresponding national average was higher at around 13%.

States affected by Maoist violence agree the scheme’s implementation in the areas has been reasonably successful.

The programme “has been implemented fairly well in the Naxal-affected areas in the state", said N. Baijendra Kumar, a spokesperson for Chhattisgarh, one of the states most affected by the Maoist insurgency. “It is one of the ways to win people’s confidence—giving them supplementary income and employment."

Some of the programme’s terms make it less easy to implement, he said.

“One of the problems is the Central government’s insistence of payment of wages through post office and bank accounts, given most of these areas are remote," Kumar said. Payments are made through such accounts to prevent misuse and to ensure that the money reaches the right recipients.

Some question the credibility of the statistics.

“We need to question the trustworthiness of all this data. I don’t think it should be taken at face value," said S.L. Rao, former director general of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, who visited Bihar earlier this year to study the programme’s implementation. “If there is a problem in implementation in safe areas, then it’s difficult to believe the implementation is as good in troubled, tribal areas. Several problems like unspent funds, delay in wage payments, corruption, etc., are found in the scheme’s implementation across the country. So it would seem contradictory that it is doing reasonably well in the Naxal-affected districts."

Naxalite outfits are currently active in 91 districts across 11 states in the country.