Legislation is fine, but what about implementation?
In many ways, the NREGA is a revolutionary legislation. It has led to the payment of a hundred days of wages in many parts of the country and has created awareness amongst workers about their rights. But there's much that still needs to be improved upon, write Sandeep Pandey and Arundhati Dhuru.india Updated: Jul 21, 2009 00:33 IST
In many ways, the NREGA is a revolutionary legislation. It has led to the payment of a hundred days of wages in many parts of the country and has created awareness amongst workers about their rights.
But there's much that still needs to be improved upon. In many states, work isn't being properly allocated, payments aren't made on time, unemployment allowances aren't being given and women aren't being fully allowed to benefit from the scheme. Further, there is a great deal of corruption in the implementation of the scheme and contractors are benefiting as middlemen. There are no balwadis for children accompanying their mothers, no first aid, shelters or drinking water.
The biggest problem obstructing satisfactory implementation seems to be one of attitude. In many areas, the ruling elite does not acknowledge the legal right for 100 days of employment or even see it as a guarantee. Others are interpreting it as a maximum 100 days of employment. The bureaucracy must exhibit the political will to ensure payment to workers in the same manner as a salary is disbursed to a government employee.
Currently, NREGA funds are being spent on everything from publicity to the hiring of additional staff and consultants. The same mindset also obstructs the payment of the unemployment allowance, and of opening bank accounts for workers - it is just not seen as the legal right of the worker. The root cause for all of the above is the same: the practice of social discrimination between the right and the poor.
The next step for our government and bureaucracy is to figure out how to overcome these social issues to ensure the payment of a full 100 days of work to every unemployed rural citizen, regardless of whether work has been allocated or not. (Since the Act allows for the payment of an unemployment allowance equal to 100 days of work). One way of doing this would be by threatening officials responsible for unmet targets with legal action.
Further, the participation of villagers in decision-making is a must. This will ensure that assets which are a priority for the village are created first. (For example, if a village believes that the need for a toilet is greater than the need for a road, NREGA officials can instruct workers to build a toilet). There must also be collective responsibility for implementation of work. Presently, most decisions are taken outside the panchayat.
The provision for social audit is a very unique feature of the NREGA. It allows for villagers to ask for social audits, and not just government employees or NGOs. But this is not being done. Civil society must play a role in encouraging the use of this provision.
Ultimately, the scheme must cover urban areas, all-year-round work and individual entitlement to work rather than the whole family.
Sandeep Pandey, a social activist, is the founder of the Asha Parivar and a Ramon Magsaysay award winner. Arundhati Dhuru is one of the founder members of the National Alliance for People's Movement.