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New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday expressed unhappiness over the implementation of the government’s flagship rural employment guarantee scheme describing it as “not in good shape" and directed the Planning Commission to address the “gaps."

Singh was speaking after releasing a report on the working of the marquee Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (Mgnrega) in New Delhi. In his speech, Singh pointed to problems like delayed payments to workers and said these should be addressed at the earliest.

“(But) statistics do not tell the whole truth," he said while releasing ‘NREGA Sameeksha’, a collection of research studies conducted on the programme under which 1,10,000 crore have been spent to pay wages to 1,200 crore people since 2006.

Singh said he was “surprised to hear from (rural development minister) Jairam Ramesh that concurrent evaluation processes are not in good shape." He referred to the “gaps" highlighted by Ramesh and Planning Commission member Mihir Shah that need to be fixed. Concurrent evaluation is the assessment of the impact of the programme as it is being implemented, without waiting for any periodic audit. “I would request (Planning Commission deputy chairman) Montek (Singh Ahluwalia) to apply his mind to making good this deficiency as well," he said.

On the issue of delayed payments to the Mgnrega workforce, he said, “sooner we tackle this problem of delayed payments, I think better results would be in the offing."

Referring to the positive outcomes of the programee, Singh said that nearly 5.50 crore families, or nearly one in four rural households, were provided over 250 crore person-days of work under the programme since the launch of the Mgnregs in 2006. Singh said the safety net provided by the scheme had helped rural India cope with the frequent distress and natural disasters. “The combined effect of expanded agricultural production, demand for labour from the construction sector and the effect of Mgnrega has led to tightening of the market for agricultural labour and a steady rise in real wages. Farmers sometimes complain about this. But rising demand for labour is the only way to help the landless improve their standard of living."

In his “foreward" to the report, the rural development minister referred to key problems plaguing the flagship programme including the misappropriation of funds.

“Though the achievements of Mnrega have been impressive, there have been issues with regard to its implementation that need to be recognised and addressed meaningfully. ...There has been public concern over misappropriation of funds and resources, and leakages in Mnrega," Ramesh said.

“While implementation remains uneven and patchy across states and districts, there is evidence to suggest that Mgnrega has contributed to increased rural wages everywhere, reduced distress migration from traditionally migration-intensive areas, usage of barren areas for cultivation and empowerment of the weaker sections and giving them a new sense of identity and bargaining power," Ramesh said.

The rural employment programme was notified on 7 September 2005 and came into effect on 2 February 2006. It is considered the brainchild of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) that sets the social agenda of the government. The UPA government came to power in 2004 for the first time on a pro-poor ticket and the scheme was one of the main programmes targeting the section during the alliance’s first term in office. The popularity of the scheme was seen as one of the causes for the re-election of the alliance for a second term in 2009. It seeks to create “durable assets" such as roads and irrigation facilities.

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