Shri Jairam Ramesh, Hon’ble Minister for Rural Development, Government of India released the Second Report of the National Consortium of Civil Society Organizations on MGNREGA (http://www.nregaconsortium.in/index.html) entitled “MGNREGA: Opportunities, Challenges and the Road Ahead” at India International Centre Auditorium, New Delhi on 15 September, 2011. The event took place in the presence of Guest of Honour Dr. Mihir Shah, Member, Planning Commission, GoI.
In his introduction, Pramathesh Ambasta, National Coordinator of the Consortium of CSOs on MGNREGA said that NREGA marks a new chapter. He informed that the Consortium was formed to work along with panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) in order to make NREGA a success. The Consortium has built partnerships with gram panchayats, gram sabhas, State and Central Governments. The Consortium comprise 72 partners spread over 85 blocks in 58 districts of 11 states of India. The work done by the Consortium of CSOs falls into the following categories: a. Mobilization; b. Assistance to gram panchayats for plan preparation and implementation; c. Implementation, where the states allow for such a participation; d. Capacity building and support to each other and to other agencies such as panchayat and line department functionaries; and e. Advocacy of required policy changes at the local, the state and the national levels.
As a result of the work done by the Consortium, there has been a dramatic change in worker registration, work demand, employment and wages (for more information, please go to: http://www.im4change.org/docs/201NREGA-part1.pdf). The participation of SCs and STs has increased over the years and there has been a fall in the level of distress migration, Pramathesh added. In the KBK region of Orissa, NREGA has stopped distress migration. Many of the CSOs belonging to the Consortium are working in Maoist affected areas.
Dr. Mihir Shah in his speech said that there is a need for doing something innovative with NREGA. He said that NGOs and CSOs have played a crucial role in social audit of NREGA. He informed that there is a proposal for allowing NREGA workers to work in the crop fields owned by small and marginal farmers for agricultural activities like sowing, harvesting, soil preparation, irrigation, compost preparation and allied activities relating to livestock. Under NREGA, development of land belonging to small and marginal farmers is already taking place. The Ministry of Agriculture under Sharad Pawar has asked for stopping NREGA work during peak agricultural seasons. He welcomed responses from CSOs on issues whether a. labour cost be subsidized for small and marginal farmers; b. NREGA money be spent on agriculture; c. banks are preferred over post offices as medium of NREGA wage payments (since Jairam Ramesh prefer post offices over banks as medium of NREGA wage payment).
Jairam Ramesh said that the Rural Development Ministry has made some suggestions in order to reform the existing NREGA, which is available at: http://rural.nic.in/latest/Reforms_in_MGNREGA01092011.pdf. The suggestions given by the rural development ministry are based on the recommendations made by the Second Report “MGNREGA: Opportunities, Challenges and the Road Ahead”. Reforms in the programme are needed to get more positive outcomes and not to close it. NREGA has not failed. The idea is not to change the law but to reform it. Distress migration from KBK region (Orissa), Mehbubnagar (Andhra Pradesh) and Bellary (Karnataka) could be arrested due to NREGA. Under NREGA, 70 percent of the expenditure made is on constructing and maintaining water bodies. There are reports that manual labourers do not get paid on time (delay in payment) and they have to wait for 6 months to a year. This is the biggest challenge before NREGA. Employment demand will rise if payment is made on time, Jairam added. Little or no action has been taken yet for payment of unemployment compensation. Capacity building of gram panchayat is important so as to get the desired results. Henceforth, a panchayat officer and a junior engineer would be assigned for every gram panchayat. Local people would be given priority in getting employment in the Bharat Nirman Rajiv Gandhi Sewa Kendras. An additional room would be constructed with each Sewa Kendra so as to open up post offices. The Comptroller and the Auditor General (CAG) has prepared a report for social audit of NREGA (please check: Report of the Task Group on Social Audit, January, 2010, http://www.cag.gov.in/Social%20Audit.pdf). Action against corrupt and unscrupulous officials and public servants will now be taken on the basis of social audit.
Jairam suggested that 10 percent of NREGA workers who have completed 100 days of work should be given skill development training under National Rural Livelihood Mission. NREGA provides employment of the last resort and it can’t be used for skill development. If NREGA is implemented properly and runs well, it requires Rs. 1,20,000 crore annually instead of the current budget of nearly Rs. 40, 000 crore. In the 60 Maoist affected areas, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and NREGA are required to be implemented. Playgrounds will be constructed for children in Maoist affected areas under NREGA. There are people who think that a rise in agricultural wages (caused by high NREGA wages) has pushed up cost of agricultural production. But there should be a debate on whether NREGA wages is adversely affecting agricultural production.
“MGNREGA: Opportunities, Challenges and the Road Ahead” (2011) prepared by National Consortium of Civil Society Organizations on MGNREGA
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