Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday expressed surprise that concurrent evaluation of NREGA scheme is “not in good shape” and directed the Planning Commission to address the deficiency and “gaps“.
Making it clear that he was not “fully satisfied” with the way the scheme is working, he noted the problems like delayed payment to workers under the government’s flagship and said these should be addressed at the earliest.
“The Mahatma Gandhi NREGA story in numbers is a story worth telling.... the scheme scores high on inclusivness...no welfare scheme in recent memory has caught the imagination of the people as much as NREGA has,” Dr. Singh said.
”...(but) statistics do not tell the whole truth,” he said while releasing ‘NREGA Sameeksha”, a collection of research studies conducted on the programme under which Rs 1,10,000 crore have been spent to pay wages to 1,200 crore people.
Dr. Singh said he was “surprised to hear from (Rural Development Minister) Jairam Ramesh that concurrent evaluation processes are not in good shape“.
He referred to the “gaps” highlighted by Mr. Ramesh and Planning Commission member Mihir Shah that need to be fixed.
Concurrent evaluation is the assessment of the impact of the scheme while it is implemented, without waiting for annual or any other periodic audit.
“I don’t know why they are languishing, if they are at all languishing. But I would request (Planning Commission Deputy Chairman) Montek (Singh Ahluwalia) to apply his mind to making good this deficiency as well,” he said.
Both Mr. Ramesh and Mr. Ahluwalia were present at the programme.
The Prime Minister recalled that when he was in the Planning Commission, the process of concurrent evaluation was started for a number of programmes of rural development.
Referring to the issue of delayed payments to NREGA workforce, he said, “sooner we tackle this problem of delayed payments, I think better results would be in the offing.”
The ‘Sameeksha’ contains Ramesh’s admission about issues like misappropriation of funds plaguing the implementation of NREGA.
“Though the achievements of MNREGA have been impressive, there have been issues with regard to its implementation that need to be recognised and addressed meaningfully. ...There has been public concern over misappropriation of funds and resources, and leakages in MNREGA,” he has written.
Dr. Singh took note of mention by Ramesh in the ‘Sameeksha’ that NREGA was perhaps the “largest and most ambitious” social security and public works programme in the world.
He pointed out that nearly 5.50 crore families or nearly one in four rural households were provided over 250 crore person-days of work under the programme.
Dr. Singh said the safety net provided by the scheme has helped rural India cope with the frequent distress and natural disasters.
“The combined effect of expanded agricultural production, demand for labour from the construction sector and the effect of MGNREGA has led to tightening of the market for agricultural labour and a steady rise in real wages. Farmers sometimes complain about this. But rising demand for labour is the only way to help the landless improve their standard of living,” Dr. Singh said.
He said the Panchayati Raj institutions have to gear themselves to play a central role assigned to them under the scheme and stressed the need to provide the resources to help panchayats to perform the function effectively.
“If these local bodies can rise to the challenge, MGNREGA can very well become a silver bullet for India’s rural renewal,” he said.
Dr. Singh felt designing more flexible and community based approaches was a major challenge before policy makers to encourage implementing agency to be innovative and responsive to local needs.
Referring to the issue of gender equality, Dr. Singh said according to a study a silent revolution is taking place among rural women due to NREGA.
“Wage disparities are being reduced and women are coming out more in the public sphere to take up work and interact with banks, post offices and government officials. This has done wonders for their self-confidence and given them a greater say in financial matters of the household,” he said.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Ramesh said while audits, investigations and “post mortems” take place, they were no substitute to concurrent audit and hoped his proposal to the Planning Commission to put in place dedicated network for the same is approved.
He felt that the concurrent audit should be handled by independent evaluation office to be set up under the plan panel.
He said in an effort to strengthen the capacity of Panchayati Raj institutions through investment in technology, his Ministry was ready to give some money from NREGA funds to the Panchayati Raj Ministry. He said “bureaucratic problems” like transferring funds from one ministry to the other could be settled.