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National Employment Scheme:CAUGHT IN BUREAUCRATIC SNAGS, by Suraj Saraf,17 June 2009 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 17 June 2009

National Employment Scheme


By Suraj Saraf

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) has been hailed as the most important flagship project of the UPA government to unlock the potential of the vast rural population (72%) through tackling its unemployment problem.

Launched in 200 districts in February 2006, the project had been described as a major success by UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi. She said it underlined the Government’s commitment “to reach out to the masses and provide them with all basic amenities.”

Highlighting its important aspects at a NREG conference in Delhi, she said it had stopped the exodus of labour, empowered women, provided basic facilities in many sectors, including education and health, and transformed life in the rural belt. “Only when the common man prospers will the country prosper.”

Importantly, the NREG had been widely lauded and accordingly being taught at the J.P. Kennedy School, the Marvard University and the London School of Economics. However, conscious of the fact that such a crucial project might have lacunae, delegates were promised to be removed. It was necessary that implementation of the scheme should be reviewed frequently. So far, two important studies have been conducted ---a report by the CAG and a study by the National Sample Survey viz some States (Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh “which had best utilized the scheme in creating jobs and assets and given a fillip to rural economy.”) This is expected to take one year, to be followed by a national survey later.

Meanwhile, some State governments have made their own assessment. But let us first see what the CAG has to say. He had criticized the dilution of the NREGA due to poor record maintenance, delayed payment of wages and non-payment of unemployment allowance. The NREG was launched to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year. In its performance audit report, the CAG noted that of the Rs.13074 crore funds, including the States’ share of Rs.813 crore up to March 2007, the State government could utilize only Rs 8823 crore.

It further observed that the NREGA being a Central law, the Union Ministry of Rural Development should accept the overall responsibility for coordinating and monitoring its administration and ensuring economical, efficient and effective utilization of funds provided by the Union government.

According to the ministry 3.81 crore households had demanded employment but only 2.10 crore were beneficiaries during 2006-07. Besides, there were several cases of delayed payment of wages for which no compensation was paid. “While there was inadequate assurance that all demands for work were being captured, there were also instances of non-payment of unemployment allowance, which became due to job seekers even where the records indicated that employment was not provided within 15 days from the date of demand. However, no one was fined for violation of the Act.”

The CAG report also noted that poor record maintenance further diluted the purpose of the Act. Systems for financial management and tracking were deficient, as monthly squaring and reconciliation of accounts at different levels to maintain financial accountability and transparency were not being done.

Worse, there was absence of proper planning mechanism for the implementation of NREGS in Haryana and though employment was provided to 36% households, the assets created were by and large not beneficial to the community, according to the CAG report for 2007-08 placed in the State Assembly.

Highlighting the lack of planning, the report said district perspective plan for five years and annual plans for implementation of the scheme were not prepared. Importantly, the report underscored serious bungling in the implementation of the scheme, and said there were cases of over or double payments, insertion of bogus names in muster rolls as also payments without proper receipts.

In addition, assets created were not beneficial to the community. The report also under scored instances of defective budgeting, improper planning, lack of coordination, slow implementation of development schemes, defective execution of works, deficiencies in systems and procedures, excess payments, wasteful and avoidable expenditure.

In a day-long dialogue in Jaipur, several concerned organizations threw light on “practical difficulties” in the execution of the NREGS, including insufficient payment for the NREGS workers, irregularities in the measurement of works and flouting of government orders by the panchayat officials.

Many useful suggestions included that elected representatives should adopt specific villages for keeping an eye on the implementation of the NREGS and help plug loopholes where the responsibilities assigned by the government were not being fulfilled; that each adult member of a rural family should be treated as a unit for providing employment;   that works such as development of pasture land, erecting sand walls and plantations should be included in the NREGS and that a farmers’ Commission headed by a farmer should be set up, etc. 

Interestingly, efforts have been made to alleviate suffering of those rendered jobless by the current economic slowdown. State Governments have been asked to provide jobs to those going back to their States after being laid off.  The States should issue job cards on a war footing, register demands for jobs and engage them at least for 100 days or till the economy registered an upturn and they get back their jobs.  

The Centre had initiated the measure to widen the scheme in the wake of reports that at least five lakh workers had lost their jobs. States have been told that it is most appropriate time to fill all vacancies, including the post of Rozgar Sahayak at the panchayat levels, who maintained records, technical hands at the block level to monitor schemes, accountants and IT professionals to upload data.

The Centre is hopeful that it would create an employment potential for about three lakh personnel, with wages under these categories ranging between Rs.2000 and Rs.10,000 a month. Taking heart from the global popularity of the scheme, the department is exploring the possibility to earn carbon credits for the “green jobs” rendered by the rural masses. The Ministry of Environment and Forests had been asked to study the benefits to environment from their services, quantify the same and asses if revenue could be earned from carbon trading.

Here it is pertinent to underscore what Jean Dreze, one of the initiators of the NREGS had to say in a recent interview to a national daily. One, he emphasized that the operational framework of the NREGA needed radical overhaul. “The support structures required to make the NREGA work are simply not in place. For instance, there is no grievance redressal process. The Central Employment Guarantee Council has been disbanded, against the law.”

Two, was in regard to households as units made entitled to work instead of individuals. This was crucial as the household approach has caused much confusion, especially since the term has not been well-defined. Also, taking the individual as the basic unit throughout the system would help to streamline the record and achieve transparency.

Third, he said this would facilitate full and equal participation of women; they would have their own job card and bank account, instead of depending on their male relatives. Lastly, individual entitlements would enable poor families to work for more than 100 days, if required. One person, one job card, one bank account should be the basic principle, he emphasized.  

Since the NREGS aims at mitigating rural unemployment, it is essential that it benefits and works in cooperation with other important schemes with the same end. One such project is that of Khadi & Village Industries, that provides long term employment to eight million rural workers. As the 11th Five Year Plan points out “Village industries have an important role in generating employment at a comparatively low cost. This sector has prospects for high growth in output and creation of new employment opportunities.”

Fortunately, a loan of $ 150-million has been provided by the ADB aiming at enhancing the income and employment in the rural non-farming sector. Indeed, both projects viz the NREGS and the Khadi and Village Industries Development working in cooperation can ensure the required impetus for rural India that will also augur well for inclusive development for which everyone is emphasizing to accelerate the employment and GDP. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)





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