Hailed as path-breaking, the scheme completes seven years on February 2. Starting today, we will be carrying a series of field reports.
Divergence of views prevails over the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
Of all the Centrally-funded schemes, this one stands out simply for two reasons: its economic impact on the rural populace, and the endless debate on its pros and cons.
It is said to have brought about perceptible changes in the economic profile of rural India as it has lifted lakhs of families out of the poverty line; paved the way for economic empowerment of women as they outnumber men on its roll; arrested migration of labour and above all created assets.
On the other hand, critics view the scheme as a bane because the MGNREGS has adversely affected agriculture by making labour force to go scarce; lack of monitoring mechanism has led to recklessness among the beneficiaries and a fertile ground for corruption; no worthwhile assets created; the promised wages and number days of works to be offered remain only on paper.
The issue that is persistently dogging the MGNREGS is the payment hassle, as direct money transfer to the accounts of the beneficiaries is yet to fully come into practice.
Yet, the scheme happens to be the leading job-providing mechanism. For instance, in Villupuram district, over 10 lakh people have been registered under the MGNREGS and eight lakh identity cards (the licence to work) issued.
G.Muthumeenal, Project Officer, District Rural Development Agency, Villupuram, says that 33 per cent of the beneficiaries have been provided with 100-day job. On an average, each cardholder is given job for 75 days.
Since Villupuram district has the highest number of beneficiaries, there is not enough work to be assigned under the “cluster rotation.” Each panchayat would have hardly two to three clusters. So, accommodating all the beneficiaries is a tall order.
Ms Muthumeenal underscores the point that there cannot be any “spillover” jobs because the scheme does not fix any target. As for payment of wages, the “direct money transfer mode” is being adopted on a pilot basis in about 45 villages, the official adds.
In certain villages, the Panchayat Presidents have taken the initiative to open the bank accounts for the beneficiaries. So far, 75 per cent of the beneficiaries have opened bank accounts and the remaining would get the banking facility in a few months.
As for the lapses, P.Subramanian of the All India Agriculture Workers’ Union says that the promised wages of Rs 132 per head per day is hard to come by. In fact, only Rs 60-Rs 70 per head is being given on the specious plea that they have not removed the mandatory 42 cubic feet of soil.
Only when the beneficiaries assert their rights collectively, they could get due payment. He alleges that the muster rolls would not normally reflect the actual number of workers on the field, as most often it would carry inflated numbers.
Mr Subramanian says that the MGNREGS should be extended to raising fruit-bearing trees on the bunds and banks of the water sources during the rainy season.