The flagship scheme of the UPA government, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), is attracting attention from abroad while drawing criticism for tardy implementation from within the country.
In the last few months, experts from South Africa, Malawi and most recently from Iran have come to India to study the act and seek first-hand information about the way it is being implemented.
Besides foreign experts, University of Sussex has also shown interest in conducting a research programme on the scheme, Union Minister for Rural Development Raghuvansh Prasad said on Friday.
Prasad added that the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme have also shown interest in the scheme.
Officials from Iran were interested in the scheme because like India, a large chunk of Iranians, about 35 per cent, live in villages. "They also face problems like unemployment and poverty," Prasad told the Rajya Sabha.
Prasad said the latest status report on the implementation of the scheme has found that in 120 out of 200 districts the benefits of the scheme are reaching the people. In 80 districts, however, there is much room for improvement. At present, 87,000 panchayats are being covered by NREGA.
The ministry is following a four-pronged approach to ensure the success of the scheme. These are "people's participation, strict vigilance, transparency and accountability. Instructions have also been given for zero tolerance against corruption," Prasad said.
The minister added that there were two main reasons why the pace of implementation has slowed down in some states. Firstly, soon after the scheme was launched in February 2006, the electoral code of conduct came into force in five states where assembly elections were held. Secondly, Prasad added that the monsoon also had an impact on the pace of work.
In fact, reports carried out by independent agencies have found that there are marked disparities in the implementation of the act among states. In some cases, the act is being unevenly implemented even between districts in the same state.
In some districts the act has been effectively implemented, resulting in jobs for lakhs. In other districts, the act has failed to reach the jobless, reports from a dozen states had revealed in October.