Assam has failed to ensure 100 days of rural employment under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).
Out of 31.85 lakh job card holders in the State, only 28 per cent found jobs in the 2009-10 fiscal that ended in March 31. Seventy-eight per cent of those who got jobs could retain their work for only 30 days. For some 30 per cent, jobs lasted for 10 days or less.
Only 7394 lucky households across Assam’s 2221 gaon panchayats got jobs for 100 days.
The Act guaranteeing 100 days work should have provided over 31 crore person-days of work for more than 31 lakh registered households in the State. But only 4,164,083 person-days employment were created, and women accounted for only 21 per cent of working days.
More surprisingly, only 0.64 per cent of the 31 lakh job card holders belonged to families living below the poverty line (BPL).
And persons with disabilities were simply ignored despite NREGA entitling them to at least three per cent of employment generated..
A survey carried out by two NGOs – North East Social Trust (NEST) and Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) – underscored these anomalies in the implementation of NREG scheme in Assam. The scheme was introduced across the country in 2005.
“There appears to be a lot of anomalies in the distribution of job cards and job offers in the state,” said NEST executive director Tasadduk Arif Hussain. “If NREGA is meant for the poorest of the poor and only 0.64 per cent BPL persons got jobs, who are the real beneficiaries?”
NREGA provides for nine categories of work for integrated rural development including rural infrastructure, irrigation and water management. But only one type of work – rural road-laying – was created throughout Assam.
“In an agrarian state like Assam, where water conservation and management is critical to crop production and productivity, little attention was paid to conserve and optimize traditional water bodies in rural areas,” Hussain said.
The Assam government was also found to have overlooked the provision under Article 15(1) of NREGA, which warrants the appointment of a programme officer (PO) equivalent to the rank and status of a block development officer (BDO) in the each block. The Centre bears the cost of PO, responsible for planning and execution of work.
“Instead of appointing a PO, the State government overburdened the BDO, thus severely affecting the smooth implementation of NREGA works,” said the NEST-IGSSS survey report.
It added: “The State government’s sincerity could have fetched Rs 1.5 crore to each panchayat (with 1,500 registered households and 100 days assured works @ Rs 100 each) under NREGA every year from the Centre. Unfortunately, it let the opportunity go by.”
Panchayat and Rural Development Minister Chandan Brahma, campaigning for the Bodoland Territorial Council elections, could not be contacted. Officials in his department said the “ground reality” differed from the NGO duo’s report.
“Where we have faltered is update our website with NREGA performance in at least five districts,” a senior officer said.