Several leading economists have appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to continue with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act amid apprehensions that the government might restrict the programme and not offer it adequate support.
In a letter to Mr. Modi, Dilip Abreu, Pranab Bardhan, V. Bhaskar, Ashwini Deshpande, Jean Dreze, Maitreesh Ghatak, Jayati Ghosh, Dilip Mookherjee, R. Nagaraj, Debraj Ray and others argued that despite numerous hurdles, the NREGA had achieved significant results.
The letter said: “We are writing to express our deep concern about the future of India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act .
“The NREGA was enacted in 2005 with unanimous support from all political parties. It is a far-reaching attempt to bring some much-needed economic security to the lives of millions of people who are on the margin of subsistence.
“Despite numerous hurdles, the NREGA has achieved significant results. At a relatively small cost (currently 0.3% of India’s GDP), about 50 million households are getting some employment at NREGA worksites every year. A majority of NREGA workers are women, and close to half are Dalits or Adivasis. A large body of research shows that the NREGA has wide-ranging social benefits, including the creation of productive assets.
“Recent research also shows that corruption levels have steadily declined over time. While corruption remains a concern, experience shows that it can be curbed, and the battle against corruption in NREGA has helped to establish new standards of transparency in other social programmes as well.
“No doubt, the programme could and should do even better. But the gains that have been achieved are substantial and amply justify further efforts to make it a success.
“Against this background, it is alarming to hear of multiple moves (some of them going back to the preceding government) to dilute or restrict the provisions of the Act… The Central Government appears to be considering an amendment aimed at restricting the NREGA to the country’s poorest 200 districts. This runs against a fundamental premise of the Act: gainful employment that affords basic economic security is a human right.
“The message seems to be that the new government is not committed to the NREGA and hopes to restrict it as much as possible. We urge you to reverse this trend and ensure that the programme receives all the support it requires to survive and thrive.”