Only about one fourth of the 12.46 crore households eligible for the guaranteed rural employment worked under the UPA’s flagship scheme, the NREGA, in 2012-13, recording a sharp decline from previous years. In 2009-10, 50% of those who had registered had worked under the scheme.
The government claims the decline in NREGA work could be an indication of the success of various poverty alleviation schemes and dynamism in rural economy. Activists partly agree with this, but also accuse the government of not generating enough work under the scheme even in places where demand exists.
The world’s biggest social security employment programme, introduced by UPA-1 in 2006 guarantees by law up to 100 days of unskilled manual employment to a household in a year.
The average number of days worked by a beneficiary of the scheme came down from 54 in 2009-10 to 36 in 2012-13, the UPA-2’s term. The proportion of projects completed under the scheme also fell to 15% in 2012-13 from 49% in 2009-10.
But what amused a Parliamentary Standing Committee this week is the fact that states with significant Below Poverty Line (BPL) population like Bihar and West Bengal recorded even lesser usage of the scheme than the national average. The committee blamed “bottlenecks” in implementation of MG-NREGA such as delay in wage payment and slow execution of projects by gram panchayats.
The rural development ministry that administers the programme attributed rise in agriculture wages and improvement in rural economy as a reason for less demand and movement of poor away from unskilled manual work to other jobs.
George Mathew, chairman of Delhi-based Institute of Social Sciences, had a mixed take on the argument. “The NREGA wages are unattractive… people are getting better money as agriculture workers.” He also blamed the panchayats for the poor performance of MG-NREGA.
Seeking a total revamp of the scheme considering changed ground realities, the committee had asked the government to widen the scope of the scheme by including semi-skilled and skilled works to boost employment under MG-NREGA. A view partially accepted by rural development minister Jairam Ramesh.
The Parliamentary report also indicated that programme was losing its social sting with average number of days a person getting employment in a year falling dramatically in states such as Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand in comparison to better-off states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Many of these poor states such as Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand have been demanding special category status on account of acute backwardness and poverty.
MGNREGA report card
Average employment to a household in a year
2009-10 : 54
Number of households that completed 100 days of work
2009-10: 70.83 lakh
2012-13: 9.70 lakh
Projects taken up and completed
Taken up Completed
2009-10: 46.17 lakh 49%
2012-13: 71.03 lakh 15.02%