Has NREGS lived up to its expectations?

Has NREGS lives up to its expectations?
The Economic Times, India
Wednesday 2 MAY 2007

The picture looks more grim than positive.

The architectural marvel was built on the banks of Gomti River in Lucknow; thousands of workers were building beautiful arches to destroy them every evening. Workers received food and cash. The year was 1784; entire Northern India was reeling under drought. The first “demand driven job guarantee scheme” was born. And even today Bada Imambara stands as a testimony that strong political will can not only overcome any obstacles but also serve people by creating productive assets.

NREGA was enacted after a long struggle and a hard-hitting resistance from the industrial lobby, corporate media and plethora of economists representing “Shining India” led by the finance ministry. After one year of NREGA implementation, the picture looks more grim than positive. There are reports of massive fabrication of muster rolls and job cards, low awareness level preventing people from claiming entitlements, use of machines and contractors, negligible provision of facilities, top down approach in selection of work, invisibility of women, use of violence and repression and payments even below minimum wages.

The muster rolls are sacred books not to been seen by outcastes like labourers but social audits are fashionable. The fabrication has not only led to huge siphoning off of money but also taken away days from the legal entitlement of hundred days. By relying on current minimum wage standards and making payments by measurement of the work, the government has punctured the Act, as payments go far below the minimum wages. The attempt to do justice in the employment sphere is scuttled by the injustice on wages. The question is whether there is the usual apathy and corruption or is there any systematic plan to sabotage the Act?

The low allocation for present 330 districts in the current budget is an indication that Acts like NREGA are systematically prevented from ealizing their full potential. The success of NREGA depends not entirely on economics but on politics. It remains to be seen whether the dominant economic politics is defeated by people’s politics that is evident in struggles and growing discontent in every nook and corner of the country.

Arundhati Dhuru

(Adviser, Supreme Court Commissioner on Right to Food)