It takes an exceptional Punjab village to be number three in the country in implementing the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS), when 5,200 others have no work to show.
Tamkot on the Barnala-Mansa Road is like any other Punjab village — with ponds, dusty lanes, cattle-occupied streets, and oldies playing cards. The separating factor is the unity of its 2,500 inhabitants. Its rich, poor, landless and landlords of all castes supplement their income working under the central programme. Union Panchayati Raj Ministry’s department of rural development has adjudged their performance to third-best for the year 2014-15.
Village sarpanch Ranjit Singh (47) is proud that Tamkot achieved what no other village in the state could. That year, Tamkot panchayat had involved every household in making 621 job cards and paid Rs 32 lakh as wages at Rs 210 a day (now increased to Rs 218), with guarantee of minimum 100 days of work. “If each of the 13,080 panchayats in Punjab spent this amount, it will inject Rs 4,000 crore into our rural economy and change the face of our state,” said Ranjit Singh, a semi-literate man who can’t calculate but can read the benefit in the scheme.
“People holding 5 acres have worked with the landless labourers of our village, and even a farmer with 35 acre land has a job card in a sign of willingness to work. We give priority to the needy, though,” said the sarpanch. “In Tamkot, welfare work is ‘sewa’ and everyone is paid equal honorarium,” said Ranjit Singh. Rashtriya Gaurav Gram Sabha award for the year 2015-16 has also come Tamkot’s way for best practises in village administration.
In the year it got the MNERGS award, the village combined to level a school park, prepare a cremation ground, did a pond, clean a passing canal, and relay phirni (area identified for expansion). A stadium project is next. The village spends 60% of the MNREGS grant on labour and 40% on material. Towards the material cost, the state government contributes 25%, or 10% of the total budget, but it is delayed usually, on account of Punjab’s poor fiscal health.
“We need intelligent people to work with us. Yardsticks for awards ought to be fixed, since many panchayats do a lot of good work that doesn’t fit into the scheme,” said Punjab rural development and panchayat minister Sikandar Singh Maluka. He adds that his department is keen to implement the MNERGS but unlike other states, Punjab doesn’t have big panchayats that have large incomes and function like regular offices.
What state can learn from Tamkot
In the year Tamkot was adjudged third best, 5,202 state villages remained untouched by the scheme. Of the budget approved for 90-lakh man hours, the state could spend for only 64-lakh man hours. The rest lapsed. “In the initial years after launch of the scheme in 2005 by the Congress-led Union government, Akali-BJP government in the state was not keen to implement it for political reasons, and the state lagged behind,” said Mansa block samiti member Kishan Singh, who works closely with Tamkot sarpanch Ranjit Singh.
In the year 2014-15, of the 7,300 works started in the state under the MNERGS, 3,165 remained incomplete. In the year 2015-16, out of 18,000 works initiated, only 6% could be finished. The state is yet to implement direct payment rule properly.
Central scheme can support farming
The 2013 central policy could benefit agriculture (horticulture especially, which requires big labour support) in a big way if workers are paid through the MNERGS. The Punjab government, however, has not cleared the project reports for different horticulture crops; so farmers can’t seek support.
The Punjab officials take the plea that MNERGS doesn’t suit the state, as the number of works that could be done within are fewer. Punjab can benefit by the development of canals and horticulture plantations under the scheme.