Saturday, September 5, 2009

NREGS Implementation - A Ground-Level Report

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is a landmark scheme in many ways. With a budget outlay of 39,000 Crore in the current budget(2009-10) there is an increased attention towards this scheme and its efficacy in improving quality of rural life.

The scheme has not been without its fair share of detractors. For a large period, there were questions being raised about leakages in the system to the potential of the programme to be rolled out in such a large scale in all districts across the country. Today, we have moved beyond such questions and we are questioning the nature of works being adopted and whether the assets being created are of a permanent nature and whether the state should be spending huge amounts on this scheme without any tangible long standing assets being created and whether investments are being made in improving the skillset of the beneficiaries which would help them in the longer run. A set of academicians have argued that in the light of non permanency of the assets being created under this scheme, this is nothing but a cash transfer scheme which in the lack of an unique identity scheme can not materialize.[1]

Another issue that the program has to grapple with is the non-uniformity of implementation across different states. Some states like Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu have taken the lead in implementation, whereas other states are still being seen as laggards. What is needed is a national oversight team, under the ministry of labour or ministry of rural development that can identify the best practices across states and disseminate this information.

Issues of lack of awareness amongst beneficiaries, inadequate trained engineering staff to monitor the nature of works being undertaken, inadequacies in staff at the panchayat and taluk levels to provide for the administrative back bone of this scheme – resulting in delayed job cards delivery, delay in processing applications and eventually payments are complaints that have for long plagued the scheme.

On another front, what the NREGA has silently achieved through its payment mechanisms is a larger inclusion of the rural poor into mainstream banking, a move which hitherto was not considered easy. The scheme also scores on transparency measures that are being inbuilt into the program. The MIS systems provided on the program website are fairly comprehensive and ensures information symmetry amongst several stakeholders.

At our visits to gram panchayats in the Kolar district we found that all the problems that we have mentioned about the program still continue to exist. Awareness in several quadrants about this scheme was low, nature of works being adopted appeared ad-hoc and without sound reasoning of long term value being generated and there did exist complaints of delayed payments and procedural delays. However, working silently were people like the secretary of Shivarapatna Panchayat(Malur Taluk), who were working in their own silent ways to ensure that things improved on the implementation front. We commend this indomitable spirit of ground level workers to bring in a transformation at their own level.

At this stage, what is required is critical evaluation of nature of works being undertaken, the ground level issues that hamper the streamlined work delivery and a greater emphasis on parallel up-gradation of beneficiaries’ skill levels

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