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Opinion » Lead

Updated: September 1, 2012 01:14 IST

Much more than a survival scheme

    Aruna Roy
    Nikhil Dey
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The Hindu

An anthology of independent evaluations of MGNREGA shows that it has provided income security, improved health, narrowed the gender gap and created useful assets

In the midst of the debates that prevail in this country over the feasibility of the world’s largest public works programme, the MGNREGA Sameeksha — an anthology of independent research studies and analysis on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, from 2006-2012 — is a significant innovation to evaluate policy and delivery. In bringing out MGNREGA Sameeksha, a collection of critical independent voices, released in English and Hindi by the Prime Minister on July 14, the Ministry of Rural Development provides a platform for evaluation of a law designed to assist the most invisible in India’s political spectrum. The Sameeksha is not a ‘new’ study. As the introduction explains, it is “an analytical anthology of all major research studies done on MGNREGA that were published in academic journals or came out as stand-alone reports”.

Summary of findings

No department, from the social sector or otherwise, has published a summary of findings of all the independent research studies conducted on its major programmes. To do so asserts confidence in independent evaluations, and the wisdom that the government would do well to consider such views and analyses. Given India’s very poor record of rural development, it was important that the world’s largest employment programme be evaluated by credible institutions and researchers. By bringing a summary of findings of all the studies together, Sameeksha facilitates informed understanding, analysis, implementation, and reform where necessary.

Sameeksha is an initiative of Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Rural Development, edited by Planning Commission Member Mihir Shah and compiled by a team led by Neelakshi Mann and Varad Pande. To ensure academic merit, suitable coverage of major studies, and veracity of reportage, the anthology was refereed by two prominent academics/writers; economist Jean Dreze, and the editor of the Economic and Political Weekly, C. Rammanohar Reddy. This anthology is finally a tribute to the MGNREGA, and the millions of workers who have diligently struggled against poverty and unequal implementation, and even violence in some cases to access their rights.

Evaluating MGNREGA on the basis of rigorous research, rather than anecdotal evidence, offers a rational framework for improvement, and rejects irrational demands for closure. It also becomes the basis for more informed discussion to write articles, conduct television studio debates, and even design policy initiatives.

In the midst of ill-informed adverse criticism, this compendium gives us a set of answers based on fact and not opinion.

Continuing critical comments and assertions beg for answers. Has the MGNREGA really built assets, or has it just been a compendium of useless earth work? Has it created a lazy workforce that is affecting our work culture? Has it negatively affected agriculture by drying up the labour market? Has the MGNREGA become the biggest source of corruption in rural India? Has it failed to arrest distress migration? Has it helped household income, and reduced hunger in the poorest households?

These papers provide answers premised on detailed research or study. For instance, the oft-repeated aggressive assertion that MGNREGA does not build useful assets has been made without the support of any study to justify this claim. These assertions arise very often from fleeting visits to roadside worksites, with insufficient time for anything more than an anecdote. This off-the-cuff dismissal of “useless earth works” arises from a group which often lives on the other side of a fractured India, for whom mud and dirt become synonymous! It also raises the pertinent question of what indeed is a productive asset — a village tank that recharges 40 wells, or only a work of brick and mortar.

Sameeksha has a whole chapter dedicated to studies on asset creation which, by and large, show that sustainable assets have been created. A study of the best performing water harvesting assets in Bihar, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Kerala for instance show the potential of these works where a majority of the assets studied had a return on investment of well over 100 per cent, with investment costs recovered in less than one year! Perception-based surveys, including those carried out by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) in three States showed that the vast majority of assets were being used, and the people found them useful.

Multiplier effect

This report should give policymakers and politicians a chance to take stock. Interestingly, the compendium effectively answers many of the basic criticisms of MGNREGA that have emanated from politicians and bureaucrats even within the system. The Prime Minister will hopefully acknowledge the findings contained in Sameeksha, and accept that MGNREGA is more than a lifeline for survival. Different studies have shown that it has provided livelihood and income security, decreased the incidence of poverty, increased food intake, reduced mental depression, positively affected health outcomes, and been successful as a self targeting scheme — as the poorest and most marginalised communities have sought work. In many States, it has decreased gender differential in wages, increased real wages accompanied by an increase in agricultural productivity and growth. This increase in agricultural productivity could be due to the watershed and water harvesting works, as well as the land development work on the fallow private lands of SC, ST and BPL families to make them productive. The studies do not bear out the assertion that MGNREGA has caused a shortage of farm labour. Importantly, some studies seem to indicate a significant multiplier effect on the rural economy suggesting, as the authors say, a need to study this aspect further.

The report also shows that there is poor implementation in many places. Average wages paid are lower than minimum wages; there is a distressing delay in the payment of wages; demand is not properly captured (an NSSO survey found 19 per cent of people who wanted work did not get it); dated receipts for work applications are not properly given; and the payment of unemployment allowance is a rarity. There is a shortage of staff, and there are many instances of irregular flow of funds. Non-compliance with proactive disclosure provisions such as muster rolls being available at worksites continues to be a problem in some States. As a result, leakages and corrupt practices continue to exist. While social audits in Andhra Pradesh have significantly increased awareness and identified fraud, Sameeksha notes that social audits are a facade in most other States.

Several initiatives have a mixed outcome. The Management Information System places the largest set of data of any public works programme in the public domain via the MGNREGA website, but States are still struggling to upload data online on a real-time basis. Ten crore bank and post office accounts have been opened, bringing about financial inclusion, and reduced corruption in wage payments, but the delay in payments through such accounts is a major cause of distress.

Many of these concerns obvious to those who work in rural India have been corroborated by the scope and rigour of academic research. The area specific outcomes have been no less significant. We have seen thanks to the MGNREGA offering alternative work, hundreds of bonded labour (Saheriya adivasis) in Rajasthan freed from generations of bondage. People have been saved from destitution in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, and Chhattisgarh, women have been empowered and are participating in huge numbers in Tamil Nadu, and the programme is even showing very positive results in “non-NREGA” States like Himachal Pradesh and Kerala.

Academic studies contextualise experience and anecdote, within the framework of critical factual analysis. Policymakers cannot brush these aside as irrelevant. Ironically, the report also reveals the many issues and areas that have not been researched. It exposes the missed opportunities of the academia to invest in detailed and widespread study of this very unique right, entitlement and programme. Perhaps this report can help be a force multiplier for the studies conducted so far, which in turn will encourage more research.

The MoRD has also invited the Comptroller and Auditor General to conduct a performance audit of MGNREGA, and mentor the social audit process. The CAG oversight should enable a detailed appraisal of the shortcomings in implementation. These kinds of partnerships must become a regular activity not only within one Ministry, but in the government. It will help improve implementation and could be a creative way in which governance could be improved with the help of modes of independent evaluation and public participation.

(Aruna Roy & Nikhil Dey are socio-political activists, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan)

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I think everyone is looking at MGNREGA from one side....the real
need is to look whether the work undertaken is fruitful or not.If
government thinks that if paying adequate amount to rural poor is
the final goal it is really unfortunate.Instead it should plan
for a work which will also help the community at large like
instead of asking ( the government project )contractors to employ
labour from outside government can provide it through MGNREGA
workforce,which is both way good as it saves the labour from
exploitation by contractors as well as it can monitor the
contractor accounts.

Let me tell you my experience of NREGA ,in my village NREGA is
very active but I have hardly seen any useful work done by them
and farmers are facing acute shortage of labour.There are
instances where the farmers are giving up farming.My suggestion
is the government should use the workforce efficiently and let
the world see what the work done by NREGA.

from:  Veera Reddy
Posted on: Sep 2, 2012 at 18:24 IST

A very well written critique of the Sameeksha literature.

from:  akanksha
Posted on: Sep 2, 2012 at 16:31 IST

Yes, MANREGA has been able to make impact but there are some
challenges.At root level there is confusion about
supervision.Specialist recruited MANREGA implement the scheme but it
is overseen by generalist block and district level officer who have a
lot of other schemes to handle. So, government should clear this
haziness.MANREGA's employees are locally recruited they need specific
training and they are not adequately paid government should design
proper pay structure for them.Government can also tap professional
from quality professional from institutes like IRMA or NIRD in
delivery mechanism and identifying projects.Government should also
try to make this scheme independent of local administration. yes data
fudging,delayed wage payment and corruption at root level are other
big problems.Larger Use of ICT and better community involvement and
involvement of NGOs, CAG and quality private audit firm Like PWC or
Delloite in social auditing can check corruption and make delivery
better.

from:  Wasim Khan
Posted on: Sep 2, 2012 at 12:24 IST

NREGA asset creation rate is less 10%. Compared to the amount of funds
spent on NREGA, the output is minuscule. If the same funds had been used
private individuals elsewhere, it would have been used much more
productively.

from:  Chandragupta Acharya
Posted on: Sep 1, 2012 at 15:17 IST

MGNREGS is an excellent program of UPA govt. in India.If we analysis the positive result then we can say that it success 40% but there is a good opportunity of 80% success of this program.If the administration strong then we can expect more good result.This program is very good for rural infrastructural development and rural employment.The scheme taken under MNGREGS such as afforestation, etc is a good demanded scheme now a days.It help us in reducing climatic problem.As a whole we can say that if MGNREGS implemented successfully then we can able to reduce rural poverty .

from:  MILTAN HANDIQUE from gohpur assam
Posted on: Sep 1, 2012 at 13:13 IST

There is a limit even to bluff people...

from:  DANNY
Posted on: Sep 1, 2012 at 12:24 IST

Our village area is 110 km north west of Chennai bordering AP. The
participants in MNREGA do only two hours of physical labour but linger
in the workplaces from morning ten to afternoon two. The quantum of
work is very low. Corruption in our area is very minimal. The wages
are paid fully without any deductions or cut. The invisible barrier of
caste feeling is breaking down on a daily basis due to the eager
acceptance of this job by women from all castes. As one commentator
indicated large tracts of poromboke lands can be converted into
forests by sustained effort.

from:  chandrasekaran
Posted on: Sep 1, 2012 at 11:48 IST

MGNREGS is an excellent scheme which is demand driven and based on the right of the people. Eventhough government has been providing enough input in terms of resources, the poor sections are still not able to reap the benefit of the scheme. More inputs are needed in terms of awareness not only among the community members but also to the government functionaries also.

from:  Appade Rajeevan
Posted on: Sep 1, 2012 at 11:22 IST

Good effort by the MoRD to attempt a retospective analysis on the
MNREGA. However, for a programme to be successful the sequence
should be as follows: the idea - study design - pilot program -
outcome - policy formation - program formulation and the final
and most difficult step implementation . I would like to know if
the study looked at the caste components and it is a well known
fact its women who form the predominant workforce in the NREGA.
In a country where founding principles of our constitution are
equality and social justice MNREGA should help acheive these
lofty ideals thro the data provided.The work carried out by
MNREGA should only be manual is unreasonable. Agreed large
infrastructure work in the rural areas may involve contractors ,
middlemen and heavy machinery. Anganwadi, school compound walls,
toilets, small water tanks can be built manually. The ministry
can pilot the project for manual infrastructure development.

from:  POONGOTHAI BALAJI
Posted on: Sep 1, 2012 at 08:37 IST

MGNREGA ,a flagship programme of government ,has extended its support to millions household across the country.Reducing the gap of poverty ,raising the standard of living and providing rural a better livelihood.It has done and continuing its legacy with same phase as it was coined .The compendium Sameeksha is really a correct move to look into the extent of dissemination of MGNREA.Similarly,I would like to recommend the same research based analysis to be implemented for the other social scheme.As it is commonly heard from the people that the govt programme are not properly channelized to the people ,this research based study will help us to map out where is the actual leakage .

from:  Md Bakhtiar Khan
Posted on: Sep 1, 2012 at 01:48 IST

The article is appreciable, Aruna Roy deserve all rights to have a deliberation on the issue of this demand driven scheme under the framework of right to work. At the same time still there are a number of serious violation in the proper implementation of this scheme. One is the level of awareness among the house hold members are not enough. Second thing is the unchecked migration in pusuit of a degnified job to urban cities by rual able bodied youths. All these are the result of poor level of understanding or deleberate underperformance of grass root level functionaries of local governing bodies or block level institutions those who are responsible for the implementation of MGNREGA. I had attended a number of workshops in Madhya Pradesh on MGNREGA implementation. On the base of my experience, the state level officers authorised to hear the public grievances were responding well and timely put their efforts for its better implementatioin. People can expect more benefit by the scheme.

from:  Appade Rajeevan
Posted on: Sep 1, 2012 at 00:52 IST

Great article. It is awesome to finally see some positive news in the
media, that too from credible people like Ms. Aruna Roy. This made my
day. :)

from:  Gayathri
Posted on: Aug 31, 2012 at 23:17 IST

This is a revealation. The impression of the professional middle class is NREGA is a
fad , just a drain on & dole , only a deficit multiplier. Summery of the anthology
given here , read with the short comment Jean Dreze thoughtfully chose to make,
one gets the idea that the scheme is not a total wash out after all. This leads one
to suggest that (a) local officials , elected or selected, must put more emphasis
on creation of permanent assets by works undertaken (b) the delivery conduit
must be de-clogged (c) exhuastive research is needed to be done to lay down
guidelines for nature of the projects undertaken .

The minister's suggestion for permormance audit by CAG looks impractical , given
that organisation's exhisting load. Civil Society should be taken on board &
empowered to do social audit of NREGA activities in assigned areas. Only civil
society is capable of turning these entitlements in to empowerments to cut down
drainage along the delivery pipeline.

from:  MANISH
Posted on: Aug 31, 2012 at 20:22 IST

While poor have really benefited from MGNREGA, this study seems to be far from reality. Questions like
"Has it created a lazy workforce that is affecting our work culture?"
"Has it negatively affected agriculture by drying up the labour market?"
"Has the MGNREGA become the biggest source of corruption in rural India?"
"Has it failed to arrest distress migration?"

The answer to all these questions is Yes. The organized or farmers with 10 acres or land or more have been severely impacted. Due to acute shortage of labour, they have to give up farming and give their land in parts to people who do share cropping which has severely impacted them. The labourers who used to work in farms now get paid by MGNREGA for doing nothing. They just have their names on a register and get paid a fraction of money against what they are owed. Labourers are happy doing this because they are just working on paper and not in reality. Majority of the funds go contractors and civic officials.

from:  Kumar Vikram Dev
Posted on: Aug 31, 2012 at 20:19 IST

Good article. What GOI can do is manage the way wages are distributed. Eliminate the middle man and pay directly into accounts.

from:  harsh
Posted on: Aug 31, 2012 at 16:02 IST

Nice article and ends with Basavanna's great quote- “What stands must subside; it is what moves on that stays.”
Quote only tells everything.

from:  Alagond
Posted on: Aug 31, 2012 at 15:30 IST

A flagship programme of GOI, MNREGA, since its inception had been encounterning lot of criticisms and counter arguments, despite, this world's largest social net scheme lived up to its expectations. this article corroborate this assumption. it not just ensured livelihood of rural people but making a significan stride towards overall socio-economic development of entire rural landscape of the country. this programme should be put to much more evaluations and academic research and outcomes should be adopted in its real sense without delay.

from:  aneel.sb
Posted on: Aug 31, 2012 at 15:27 IST

Thanks for publishing this review. It shows a ray of hope especially
when the media is hellbent on depicting the government in stark black
colours. Trivialization of everything that the government initiates has
become a fashion, but a constructive review such as this can really make
people notice that the state afterall is a useful thing to have. And
Kudos to the cartoonist - very imaginative!

from:  shraddha
Posted on: Aug 31, 2012 at 12:05 IST

Since an impression is being created that I have certified the
"academic merit" and "veracity of reportage" of the Sameeksha, I reproduce below, for the record, the first paragraph of my comments
(dated 20th May 2012) on the draft report:
'This is a useful compendium of recent research on NREGA. It is reasonably comprehensive, both in terms of coverage of the literature, and in terms of coverage of the main issues. It is heavily “biased”, in the sense that there is a persistent tendency to report positive findings and ignore the rest. But since the bias is usually the other way (over-emphasis on bad news and disasters), this “compilation of good news” is welcome. It is a useful summary of the MoRD’s case for NREGA’s positive achievements, and provides a useful starting point for further, more balanced or critical assessments.'

from:  Jean Dreze
Posted on: Aug 31, 2012 at 11:50 IST

A Social programme (for that matter any programme) of this scale is bound to have problems in implementation; and rightly so. It should get evolved for the better. Some of the criticisms on NREGA does have a point, but to say that the entitlement programmes are a failure and their existence should be reviewed is absurd. As mentioned by the columnists, 'informed' debates should happen involving people from academia (not the 20 min shows in Newsrooms) on the deficiencies and steps to be taken for improving the programme.

from:  Rajesh Dhandapani
Posted on: Aug 31, 2012 at 09:54 IST

About 10% of India's land mass consists of degraded forests, with forest cover being less
than 20%. If the green cover can be increased to say 40% using MNREGA schemes we
could be making a significant dent towards climate change,and help better conserve soil and
water resources, through reduced soil erosion and flood water run offs. We have space for
10 billion more trees.

Can we take this on?

from:  Anand
Posted on: Aug 31, 2012 at 05:58 IST

I welcome Sameeksha, the intent behind and the content, as reported here. At the
same time, a study by me some time back showed up sporadic instances of self-
destruct assets (one of which was reported in the Hindu), deliberate subversion of
the guarantee element by adopting dubious PWD 'benchmarks', falsification of
muster-sheets and cheating female labour. I do not much store by the oft-reported
artificial shortage of agricultural labour because of this initiative. Those, who alleged
so, did not want to pay a fair wage. I have misgivings, but shall voice them only after
a thorough study of Sameeksha and other findings.

from:  Soundararajan Srinivasa
Posted on: Aug 31, 2012 at 02:27 IST
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