NATIONAL RURAL Employment Guarantee Act 2005 provides for enhancement of livelihood security of households in rural areas of the country. It provides at least 100 days of guaranteed employment in every financial year to each household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
Under the Act, village panchayats are required to prepare a development plan and maintain a shelf of possible works to be taken up under the scheme as and when demand for work arises.
However, several glitches need to be dealt with to make a major impact on poverty. National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP) Director Sanjay Singh, who visited Indore on Saturday, spoke to Padma Shastri about its impact.
Most village sarpanchs are illiterate and governed by people who voted them to power. In such circumstances how do you expect them to monitor the work execution, conduct social audit and build an effective management information system (MIS)?
We have asked state governments to provide them administrative and technical assistance.
A group of 10 village panchayats will be placed under one technical head. State governments have also been asked to lay stress on capacity building through training programmes and raising awareness level among villagers. It’s been six months since NREG has been implemented and the response has been very good. They are learning fast.
The Act will bring in transparency and end red-tapism as the whole process from planning to implementation is computerised. This will hurt the monetary interests of politicians and officials who had been making hay at the cost of government policies. Do you think they will allow NREGP to succeed?
Once a state government takes decision to implement it, these factors are automatically taken care of. That is why we have insisted on making MIS operational, which is an effective tool in scheme implementation. Politicians want good work, as they would want to be voted back to power.
For officials, it brings recognition. NREG, therefore, is succeeding. During past six months, it has provided employment to more than one crore households in 27 states where it has been launched.
That comes to around one lakh individuals in every district. A common problem is that most villagers don’t want to work at task rate. They insist on getting Rs 61.87 per day, which the Act guarantees, without doing the allotted work. This often leads to violent fights at panchayat offices.
Labour productivity norms are not scientifically defined in most states. They are outdated in certain states. We have asked state governments to revise labour productivity norms based on time motion studies, soil and weather conditions among other factors and fix the schedule of rates (SOR) accordingly. There has to be parity between minimum wages, SOR and labour productivity norms. Once this is done, it will solve most problems.
What according to you are major hurdles and where does MP stand vis-à-vis its effective implementation?
Most important thing is to make provision of employment as and when demand arises and make payment of equitable wages. For this, states are required to prepare a perspective plan. Barring seven or eight states like Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Gujarat; no other state has prepared it. They are in the process of doing it. MP and Rajasthan have drawn the maximum allotment of NREGP funds and they are doing well. MP has given highest employment (under it).
You see, employment demand is highest in Hindi heartland. In states like Kerala and Punjab where minimum wages are almost the double of what is being paid under NREGP, the interest would naturally be less.
What transformation do you foresee in villages as a result of the NREG three years from now?
We have to cover 600 districts in five years and we have covered 200 till now. About 90 per cent of NREGP funds come from the Centre.
If this amount is utilised to create sustainable assets in villages, it will transform rural economy and change the country’s socio-economic landscape forever. We have reports where it has checked migration from villages, especially during lean seasons (after harvest). In households where a male migrated, the female was given employment at equitable wages. So it doubled the household income and women who till now never got due labour rates received it.
Has the Centre set a deadline to remove rural poverty?
No. But different government departments are targeting it to make an impact. Agriculture Department is emphasising on growing high yield varieties even as size of landholdings are reducing across the country. Similarly, Union Rural Development Ministry has come up with NREGP.