A sinking flagship

Recent reports about slippage in the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) in many parts of the country should cause concern and call for a thorough study of the problems plaguing it.

Employment generation under the programme has  recorded a huge fall in the last three years.

A 25 per cent fall from 284 persondays to 211 persondays from 2009-10 to 2011-12 is very drastic for a  job programme, and this year is set to see a further decline. More worrying is the fact the decline has been steeper for the weaker sections, with employment for dalits and tribals  falling by 35 to 46 per cent. There is a marked fall in the share of women also in the work programme.

NREGS is the UPA government’s flagship rural welfare programme and the figures show that its spread and utility have shrunk during the UPA-II years.  Though some states like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Kerala have done well, the performance of many others has been poor. Even where employment creation went up, the participation of weaker sections declined. Jobs fell by over 65 per cent in Karnataka. It is difficult to find a single reason or set of reasons for the poor implementation of a national scheme in  country with divergent social and economic situations and labour scenarios.

The argument that there is less demand for NREGS work because the general income levels have gone up cannot be accepted.  Bad implementation practices, poor and delayed payments, absence of awareness programmes, shoddy or no monitoring, lack of adequate personnel and above all, corruption and siphoning off of  funds have all probably combined to make the programme  slide.  Along with the fall in the number of days of work, the quality of work has also fallen. There is less socially productive work being done, though it was not anything remarkable even in the beginning.

NREGS had provided a safety net for millions of poor and underprivileged people. But in many places where the implementation is poor, labour has started migrating to cities or have started doing low-paid and exploitative work. The administration of the programme needs to be studied in detail in different states and regions and the reasons for its losing coverage and impact correctly identified. Since it involves thousands of crores of money and millions of the most needy people, it is important that it is worked well and efficiently.

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