Most of the beneficiaries are agricultural and unskilled workers
NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the drawbacks of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the fact remains that it has been able to lift the standard of living of at least some of its beneficiaries living below the poverty line.
The Institute of Applied Manpower Research, at the behest of the Planning commission, conducted an all-India Report on Evaluation of NREGA tapping 6,000 respondents spread across 20 districts across the country.
The survey, conducted in 2006-07, when the scheme was in force in just 200 districts, targeted 300 beneficiaries from each district in its bid to capture the various aspects of implementation of the scheme right from the stage of issue of job cards, besides studying its impact on arresting migration and its impact on the quality of life of the households.
Thanks to the income generated under the scheme, the low earning level of a number of beneficiaries declined and the number of households reporting marginally higher income increased. Most of the beneficiaries are agricultural and unskilled workers.
There was also a shift in the expenditure pattern on food and non-food items with families spending more on both the counts. More than half the households purchased livestock like sheep and goat and almost 60 per cent of the households in the western region had an outstanding loan either from bank or local moneylender.
And with the help of the income generated from the scheme, 3.3 per cent of the beneficiaries bought bicycles for the first time, 1.5 per cent purchased electric fans or other appliances and 3.2 per cent acquired steel utensils.
The gram sabhas held meetings more on a quarterly basis and not on a monthly basis as prescribed. Migrant families could not register for job cards due to their absence. Another complaint from the eastern region was that the job card was in possession of the gram panchayat and handed to the beneficiary only during the season of works. Moreover, these cards did not bear the photographs of the households though it was mandatory.
Underlining the issues straddling the implementation of the scheme, the report maintained that 80 percent of the households failed to get a job within 15 days of their demand for work and worse still they were not given unemployment allowance either. The objective to arrest migration was far from achieved with 25 per cent of the families surveyed pointing out that the problem persisted in their villages and it was as high as 50 per cent in households in the western region. Migration was rampant in almost all villages of North Lakhimpur in north-east region and all districts from the eastern region. In some districts, the exodus was to the extent of 40 percent. Contrary to general perception that migration was for better wages, 70 per cent of the beneficiaries revealed that it was only for just wages, implying the presence of distress migration for minimum wages to earn a livelihood and for survival.
According to the report, the beneficiaries preferred staying in their native villages if there was enough wage employment available locally. Disappointingly enough, 38 per cent felt that the gram panchayat had failed to initiate measures to check migration.