India, juillet 2007
NREGA and its implementation: Major challenges
Speech delivered by Mr. Ashim Roy, General Secretary of New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), during the South Indian Workshop on NREGA organised by Pipal Tree (In-Dia Forum) at Fireflies Inter-cultural Centre, Bangalore.
Mr. Ashim Roy, explaining the major challenges in the implementation of NREGA from his experience in organizing NREGA work in Godhra:
In a political sense, the NREGA is the result of a long struggle by various social movements. Three broad political traditions have converged to make this Act possible. The whole anti-globalisation movement has been in support for the development of this Act. The gram swaraj and the ecological movements have both played a big role in the formulation of this Act.
The Act went through lots of discussion throughout the country in the political process. This is the significance of this Act, according to Mr. Ashim Roy.
Development was an internal effort, according to Gandhi and Nehru. With globalisation we moved from an import substitution model to an export intensity model. Deficit financing means that you have 100 rupees but you spend two hundred rupees. You create the other two hundred rupees through printing money. Globalisation attacked the notion of deficit financing.
NREGA is not anymore a programme of the government but a political right of the people. If this programme is fully implemented in all districts it will cost 40,000 crores. This money may not create wealth, but it still stays in an Indian well and not in a foreign well. Money should be expanded in India, not abroad. This is economic nationalism and is at the root of the NREGA Act.
This money will either come from deficit financing or taxing of the rich. When you give export subsidy then that benefit goes to a foreigner. For example if the government gives Rs.20 subsidy for a product that costs Rs.100 then the foreigner gets it for Rs.80. When a subsidy is given for khadi and fertilizers given within the country then the advantage remains within the country. This is the most important shift the Act brings.
The changes people wanted in the Act is on the wage rate and number of days of employment. If people can get work for 290 days of the year, and get about Rs.120 for men and women this will represent a wage push. This wage push will continue working and wages will keep going up. This will create major changes in the society. This is the implication of the Act. The role of a trade union movement is to create conditions for wage push. The prime task of any trade union is to see that the Act is implemented properly.
At the moment the payment for NREGA is Rs.63 or the state minimum agricultural wage, whichever is higher. The minimum wages in India stretch from Rs. 22 (Bihar-hotel workers) to Rs.150 (Kerala). There is no national minimum wage that has been fixed, so the Rs.63 will begin to be seen as an unofficial minimum wage. Since it is only a notification most of the states sticking to the minimum agricultural wage. If women who are getting Rs.30 per day get Rs.63 that is already a great achievement.
If wages rise there will not be migration to the cities by the poor, and no migration from one district to another. NREGA work is largely not agricultural work. At present NREGA work is given on a piece rate. The schedule of payments should see that the time rate is fair; it is often not fair. The state government should take serious steps in this regard.
Fighting for unemployment allowance is a big job. Unemployment allowance is the responsibility of the state government and not the centre. If there is a real struggle for getting unemployment allowance, the state government will turn up to provide 100 days of employment.
West Bengal has an implementation rate of only 17 days (in 2006) even though they have the potential to fully implement the Act. This shows the lack of pressure from the people.
People are being employed in unproductive work; it is a threat to NREGA. A coolie can get a wage through walking up and down for eight hours. This is not productive employment. Productive employment means that you create some assets. If productive assets are created you create a labour intensive development process.
Another potentiality of NREGA is that it allows for participatory development and convergence with other programmes. This is only possible in the union movement; taking money from central government to labour intensive productive employment. Panchayath has a role in this to identify other programmes which can be done with NREGA. You can not reach this stage unless you cross the first stage.
The Gandhian method took the village as a unit of economic analysis. But if we take the taluka as a unit of analysis then we have a viable economic strategy.
Normally it is a wage that creates labour. Here you have labour that creates a wage. This will happen only if labour is unionized. Or labour must be part of a cooperative. A cooperative also has productive assets.
NREGA ideally creates a wage push from the bottom. It will also push small farmers and peasants into cooperatives. This should not be the cooperative of rich farmers who create marketing cooperative. Here we are talking of a labour cooperative. By allowing no contractors it allows the possibility of a labour cooperative.
What is a small and marginal farmer? His family labour is more than his wage labour. A big farmer is one whose wage labour is more than his family labour. So if a small farmer can put his one acre or so into a cooperative, his asset will be in the cooperative and he also gives his labour to the government.
Government does see NREGA implementation as coming from a third tier of government. First tier of government is central government; 2nd tier is state government; third tier is gram sabha. Without creating a labour union you cannot activate the third tier of government. The Gramsabhas will get approval from people. But the real planning is not happening in the Gramsabha and hence the real power of the bottom is not coming up. There is no political movement to take up the third tier of the government.
The first level of socialization agent is the family. The second is the school. The third is all other institutions and that influence the adult. If we need cultural change we need to work on the 2nd and 3rd level. The first level of the family is difficult for us to reach.
In NREGA you can organise and unionise without fighting the dominant caste of the region. We cannot build our union without a non-dalit core. Rural areas all over the world are religious. This is the case of India as well. Whenever there is an oppressed group they will have a subaltern spirituality. We have to nurture and develop this spirituality.