Bangalore, novembre 2006
Conference Report. Reflection on the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA)
Speakers : Subash Lomte & Dileep Kamat
Chairperson : Ram Esteves
The session began with Mr. Subash Lomte, Convener, National Campaign Committee for Rural Workers sharing from his vast experience in the state of Maharashtra with reference to the Maharashtra Employment Guarantee Act (MEGA) being implemented since 1977. In his presentation, he gave a brief summary and disparity about the process, enactment and implementation of both MEGA and NREGA. He highlighted the importance of the NREGA and put forward the reasons why he believed NREGA is a wonderful opportunity and a great Act in the Indian History to eradicate poverty, if implemented effectively.
To begin with, he explained on how the progressive politicians, bureaucrats and social activists passed the Bill due to the continuous pressure since 1965 which was further given a boost during the major drought that affected Western Maharashtra during 1972-74. The massive and relatively successful public works programme provided a stimulus for its continuation in the post drought period. There were also agitations by left parties and trade unions for drought relief. This movement eventually supported the demand for a permanent programme like the MEGA in 1977.
The MEGA was a bold step by the people for the people. Half the money for the Corpus came from the tax of the Organised workers and half from the state government. At present 16,000 crore rupees is available in the corpus fund. The distinct difference between NREGA and MEGA was that no money would come from the central government to corpus of MEGA and each adult member of the family can get manual work (but no skill work) for 365 days. Most of the work under the EGA were for creating assets for the community and thus involved lot of construction work. Unfortunately as per the legislation, the wages of the construction workers will be as less as an agriculture worker say about Rs.45 per day. Issues such as Minimum Wage, etc are still debated within the framework of MEGA.
After a brief background to the MEGA, Mr. Subash went on to speak on the NREGA. He said that since 1977, there were numerous campaigns for the adoption of an Employment Guarantee Act in other states. A draft National Rural Employment Guarantee Act was prepared by the National Advisory Council, and was revised by the Ministry of Rural Development. The UPA led, Prime Minister later announced that the draft would be tabled in Parliament in December 2004, and that the Employment Guarantee Act would come into force in a phased manner starting on 1 April 2005. He gave full credit to Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), Rajasthan for the enactment of NREGA.
Mr. Subash strongly felt that it was against the Political agenda to see that such an Act was passed but not effectively implemented. He was disappointed with the present scenario of the implementation of the MEGA or NREGA. There are so many loop holes such as siphoning of the money in the name of bogus muster rolls, corruption, etc. to be monitored and evaluated. In his conclusion, he stated that the demand for an Employment Guarantee Act goes hand in hand with the demand for a strong Right to Information Act. The right to information is an important tool for the eradication of corruption and is essential for the success of the Employment Guarantee Act.
There is an urgent need for NGOs, Civil Society, etc to step forward and Monitor the NREGA programmes. There is much to do at all levels. The first step is to spread awareness and understanding of the Employment Guarantee Act. They can contribute by organising a discussion about EGA in their own organisation or neighbourhood. Perhaps you use a booklet (after translation in local language if necessary) for this purpose. Beyond this, many things can be done to strengthen public demand for an Employment Guarantee Act : rallies, yatras, dharnas, kala jathas, symbolic shramdans, postcard campaigns, public debates, media campaigns, among other possibilities.
He believed that there are strong provisions for transparency and accountability at all levels. For instance, job cards to be issued to all labourers ; wages to be paid in front of the community on pre-specified dates ; all relevant documents are to be available in convenient form for public scrutiny; regular social audits of all Programme works to be conducted; muster rolls to be displayed at the Gram Panchayat office until the wages are paid; utilisation certificates to be issued by the Gram Sabhas; and so on.
Mr. Dileep Kamat began his session with appreciating his old friend and colleague, Mr. Subash for the wonderful presentation and decided not to make a presentation with the repetition of the already highlighted remarks by Mr. Subash. He in fact, spoke from his experience in Belgaum, Karnataka and kept focus on his personal experiences/ stories and facts from Karnataka.
Mr. Dileep highlighted five important aspects of the NREGA : A full-fledged NREGA would enable most poor households in rural India to cross the poverty line. Secondly, it would lead to a dramatic reduction of rural-urban migration: if work is available in the village, many families will stay in place instead of heading for the cities. Thirdly, guaranteed employment would be a major source of empowerment for women. Based on past experience, a large proportion of labourers employed under EGA are likely to be women, and guaranteed employment will give them some economic independence. Fourthly, the Employment Guarantee Act is an opportunity to create useful assets in rural areas. Fifthly, guaranteed employment is likely to change power equations in the rural society, and to foster a more equitable social order.
He highlighted the situation of the NREGA implementation programmes in the five districts (Bidar, Chitradurga, Davangere, Gulbarga and Raichur) in Karnataka. According to him, more than 10 lakhs have got a job card and 60% are applied for work. Unlike Maharashtra and other states, In Karnataka the wage per person was increased from Rs.69/- to Rs.80/-. He said that if a study is done even 180 days of work is not available in Dakshin Karnataka (coastal area). And there is a need to demand for work for 180 days. He explained with simple mathematics that if a job is given to a 2 members of a BPL family (husband and wife) for 180 days they would together earn Rs.160 per day, enough to bring their status to Above Poverty Line.
He further spoke about his personal experience about the incident in Raichur. In this case there were 200 people (from 3 villages from a Panchayat) who had applied for job cards and finally when the work was allotted to them an issue like who is suppose to bring the tools and equipments marred the progress of the work. The Officers argued that those people appointed job are suppose to get their own tools since no where in the Act it mentioned that government has to provide the same. When the people brought this incident to the notice of Mr. Dileep, he immediately called the Higher Official, District Administrator and questioned if it was mentioned in the Act that tools have to be brought by the people. Well obviously, it wasn’t mentioned and the District Administrator without arguing arranged equipments and tools and the work started in 3 days.
Mr. Dileep said that there is not enough information given to local people from the Gram Sabha and Gram Panchayat and this makes the NREGA programmes not function to its full capacity.
There is lot of information not known to the common public about the NREGA related programmes such as :
1. NREGA programmes demands 7 hours of work only and no piecework payment should be taken up since in some cases it would depend if the land is soft or hard.
2. On site of a NREGA programme, Shed should be provided to the working people. But unfortunately nowhere in the 5 districts in Karnataka there were shed.
Apart from this there should be availability of drinking water and if there are more than 5 children an Aiya should be made available to look after them.
Necessity of understanding of NREGA has to be propagated.
Another incident Mr. Dileep shared with us was with regard to the issue raised by men working on a NREGA Programme site. The argument by the men was that, why they were being paid equal wages as women. In our traditional culture the hard work supposedly digging, etc are done by men and lifting of the mud and shifting, etc by women. Thus, the men were paid higher than the woman. So the men were disappointed that both men and women are getting same wages. Men couldn’t think of this as an opportunity for husband and wife getting equal wages, which means more money for the same family. Mr.Dileep felt that, in this context, mindset had to be changed.
Although Belgaum, Karnataka which is not one of the districts in Karnataka for the implementation of the NREGA Programmes. Mr.Dileep who is working there has made used of the opportunities such as the Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana (SGRY) and has asked others working in rural areas to make use of this scheme. SGRY is a scheme in every panchayat/rural area, which provides additional wage employment with an annual allotment of Rs.1, 00,000. And with the support of Taluk and Zilla Pancahayat’s approval Rs.5,00,000 can be approved for such a programme.
Mr. Dileep concluded with plea to disseminate proper information about the NREGA and to use the Right to Information as complimentary tool to bring change and effective implementation of the NREGA.
With these two presentations, the floor was open for discussion and questions.
Mr. U. Thirumala Reddy, from RDT, Ananthpur thanked both the Speakers for a wonderful presentation. He strongly felt that NREGA is an important tool for the government to eradicate poverty from their state. There is so much of corruption that the purpose of the programme is diverted and corruption is at rise and most importantly, people are not benefited. Although the statistics show that Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan are the two states which have utilized most of the funds under this programme, he was doubtful about workers being paid what they deserved. He further confessed of having learnt a lot from these presentations and will use the RTI and schemes like Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana and integrate in their project areas.
Another participant brought to light how people are also misusing this programme in Karnataka. In one of the villages five members of the same family have applied for fresh job cards to work another 100 days showing themselves as a separate family.
Baby Paul highlighted the situation in West Bengal which is a CPI led state. Government was not able to implement NREGA programmes effectively. People have worked for only 11 days. It is the political agenda not to implement these programmes.
There was a question raised as to what is the age limit to work under this programme and if a project under NREGA can be a long term project. And Mr. Dileep replied that every employee should be above the 18 years and any project can continue for one year to four years or more. But every employee can work only 100 days per year.
Participants agreed that Gram Panchayats and Gram Sabhas have a critical role in the implementation of the Act and using RTI these government bodies should be pressurized.
Programmes related to NREGA have less chances of corruption since it doesn’t directly involve the Village Secretary to handle the accounts but a bank account is in function at the Post office.
A question was raised by one of the student from St. Josephs College Devagiri about the future of NREGA. Mr. Subash instantly replied to this, the ultimate goal of the NREGA is to become redundant.
Mr. Baby Paul said that the good news about the NREGA is that it will be soon implemented in 676 districts instead of the pilot programme of 200 districts.
Mr. Subash said that NREGA is an opportunity for agricultural workers to come together as an organisation for wages (potential for forming a union). This group will take action if issues such as work not being provided to voice the opinion and get the Rs.20 per day compensation according to the Act.
Mr. Siddhartha proposed to the speakers and the group if an informal committee should be formed (with prominent people be it a teacher, Economist, NGO activist, etc) to play a lead role to monitor and evaluate NREGA. These could be two pressure groups, primary groups is the one which is of the people involved, the beneficiaries and the secondary pressure groups should be the journalists/media, NGO activists, etc.
There was a suggestion by one of the participants that like RTI if there is no reply given to the query, the officers are liable to be charged Rs.250/- per day and this should happen in NREGA as well.
Finally, an important question, what is the role of RTI for effective implementation of NREGA. The speakers said that through RTI one can cross check the registered job cards, work given to the number of job card holders. And if the payment is delayed through RTI one can expedite the process. Sometimes one can ask for all these information ordinarily and if need be use RTI.