Not long ago, it was often fashionable N for western development journalists to describe India as a sleeping giant of an economy. But lately, there has been a sea change. This amazing sub-continent with its mosaic of colours, contrasts and cultures has leaped forward. India is perhaps living today, according to its deserving potentials and rural India has undergone developments on multiple fronts. Rural development, as the Government of India envisages, involves both economic development as well as social transformation. The Ministry of Rural Development is the chief implementing agency for executing several programs through the State Governments.

This is done in true federal spirit as enshrined in the constitution to promote better prospects for economic development, aimed at poverty reduction, rural infrastructure habitant development and also providing employment to marginal farmers and labourers. There is also an underlined emphasis to discourage seasonal and permanent migration from rural hubs to urban areas. In this context, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural employment Guarantee Scheme the fiagship programme of the government is quite relevant as the programme aims at enhancing livelihood security of rural poor.

The preamble of MGNREG Act states that it is an “Act to provide for the enhancement of livelihood security of the households in rural areas of the country by providing at least one hundred days of guaranteed wage employment in every financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work”. Arguably, the scheme is modelled on the format of National Rural Employment Program (NREP) brought out by the Government in 1977.

It is also being linked to the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS), which was first initiated in Maharashtra way back in 19705. It guaranteed employment to the rural poor in Maharashtra through piece-rate wage labour and the scheme was later expanded to the whole country. A study by the National Council of Applied Economic Research found that the MGNREGS has reduced poverty overall by up to 32 per cent and has prevented 14 million people from falling into poverty.

Experts and officials working in rural development sectors say MGNREGA has achieved a remarkable process for the empowerment of the poor.

The Act is particularly hailed as a tool of empowerment for the most vulnerable sections of the village communities as they are also victims of social exclusion and political marginalization. MGNREGA has made a dent on poverty by both increasing employment opportunities and raising the wage rate. And it has strengthened the process of participatory democracy through economic decentralization and by giving significant roles to the Panchayati Raj Institutions

It was initially called the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) but was renamed on 2nd October 2009 to Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). This scheme is also seen as an instrument that has able to create a model of governance reform anchored on the principles of right to livelihood, transparency and grass root democracy.

The key attributes of this scheme have been labor-intensive work, decentralized participatory planning, women empowerment, work site facilities, transparency and accountability through the provision of social audits.

Survey by 2016-17 showed that NREGS has generated 19.86 billion person-days of employment benefitting over 270 million workers. Studies also say almost a third of works went to members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and half the jobs went to women workers. As many as 55% NREGA workers in 2015 (data) were women with their participation recording a quantum leap from 38 per cent over the last decade.

Modified version:

After recent modifications in the scheme implementation asset creation has actually emerged as a chief attraction for MGNREGS. According to official sources, 1.71 crore assets of MGNREGA have been geotagged. Over 5.5 crore workers have been put on the Aadhaar-based Payment System and the Aadhaar numbers of 9.23 crore workers have been seeded so far in NREGASoft MIS.

There is a need to link MGNREGS to farm sector so that the agricultural income is raised, and if possible be doubled by 2022, as envisaged by the Government of India. There is thus, a need for reducing cost of cultivation, enhancing production through efficient use of water or other inputs, providing remunerative price to farmers and rehabilitation of agricultural land and assets after natural hazards. The government of India and other stakeholders have acted rightly in these matters.

During the fourth meeting of Governing Council of NITI Aayog on June 17, 2018. Prime Minister took a decision on policy coordination between agriculture sector and MGNREGA, particularly in pre-sowing and post-harvest activities.

The Prime Minister also constituted a sub group consisting of Chief Ministers of seven states-Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal and Sikkim and NITI Aayog with the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh as the convener of the Sub-Group.

In April this year, Prime Minister said funds provided under the MGNREGA scheme be used on water conservation work for at least three summer months to curb water shortages in villages and boost farm activities. The human power available in rural areas could be harnessed to realise Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of a village-centric model of development.

In this backdrop, PM also urged panchayat representatives to spend funds provided under the rural job scheme. We should work for conserving rainwater. Panchayats should spend NREGA funds on water conservation during April, May and June,” he said. There is now a need for paradigm shift from ’relief works’ approach to integrated programme in implementing MGNREGA. In fact, there is no gain saying to point out that the works taken up in NREGS should stop from taking up individual and standalone works. Here, it will be pertinent to underline that planned and systematic development of land and harnessing of rain water following watershed principles should become the focus of the NREGS to sustainably enhance farm productivity and incomes of poor people.

Thus, in more than one way than one finds that MGNRES as designed in 2005 has been a different ball game than the manner it has been 'restructured’ by the present government.

Earlier it was rather based on adhocism, operated on a demand-driven method and largely laying emphasis on creation of temporary jobs. The best of admirers of the scheme, a decade back, would have spoken that it also disturbed agriculture labourers, how it sort of ensured ’easy money’ where things would be essentially seasonal in approach. According to lawmakers it was largely dependent on digging ponds and thus, often it was found to be futile.

But the new dispensation, according to Rural Development Minister has changed it to make the scheme target-driven and hence more result oriented. It is also, as discussed above laying emphasis on asset creation.

Geo-tagging assures Transparency:

The government added a provision to schedule-l stating that, ”At least 60 per cent of the works to be taken up in a District in terms of cost, shall be for the creation of productive assets directly linked to agriculture and allied activities through development of land, water and trees.

In the past, it was also found that there have been a failure of implementing agencies in strictly complying with the act or their problems such as manpower shortage, ineffectiveness of grievance-redressal mechanism and social audit. But now in the new structure, the number of works under the scheme has gone up from eight to 23. Measures are being taken to avoid increase in centralisation of implementation process and largely village level population and gram sabhas are being empowered to select works.

The Act makes it clear that 50 per cent of the total works in terms of cost shall be implemented by gram panchayats that will select, plan and execute the work. In analyzing the functioning of the NREGS, a vital change that the government has ushered in is the addition of individual assets and infrastructure for the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM)compliant Self-Help Groups” in the assets list. This is considered far-reaching and significant given the potential positive effect it can have on the beneficiaries, experts say.

Now, few findings suggest without MGNREGS it would be difficult to create assets in individual lands. It indicates that MGNREGS has helped in creating the assets which otherwise would have been very difficult for individuals to create.

In terms of tangible results, it needs to be pointed out that the rise in water conservation activities under the MGNREGA is expected to have some impact on the cropping pattern. In some areas, there has been a shift from low value traditional crops to high values crops. As irrigation facilities increase due to water related works, the possibility of growing short duration high value crops also increases.

Some Highlights:

MGNREGA has provided employment to 6.23 lakh households in FY 2016-17 with a substantial increase in the average number of person-days per household.

India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) came into effect on Feb 2, 2006, across 200 of India’s poorest districts in 27 states, assuring 100 days of unskilled manual work in a year to one adult member of every rural household.

In the first 10 months, more than 13 million families in the country were provided employment and more than Rs.500 million (approx $11 million) pumped into the rural economy.

Andhra Pradesh and the eastern state of Orissa, with some of the poorest pockets in the land, did well in the initial stage in the implementation of the scheme.

Early trends indicated that at least 15 to 20 per cent of the people who migrate every year have not gone out since the launch of the scheme. Such was the experience even in poverty stricken areas of Bolangir district in Orissa.

In Karnataka, NREGA workers have even been employed to manufacture environment friendly earthen bricks. The Maharashtra government’s Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan to make 5,000 villages drought-free by 2019 also depended on the NREGA.

Tamil Nadu has employed 60,000 sanitation workers for cleanliness drive under NREGA across three-fourth of villages.

Type of Works undertaken:

  • Water conservation and harvesting, digging new tanks/ponds.

  • Making of small check dams, etc.

  • Draught proofing and plantation, tree plantation, etc.

  • Flood control and protection drainage in water logged areas.

  • Construction and repair of embarkment, etc.

  • Land development plantation, land leveling, etc.

  • Micro irrigation works, Minor irrigation canals.

  • Renovation of traditional eater bodies, desilting tanks/ponds.

  • Provision of irrigation facility in areas inhabited by Scheduled castes and Schedule tribes as well.

  • Rural connectivity, construction of roads.

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Courtesy: Kurukshetra