NREGA is widely criticized to be a program that creates 'empty' work for the sole purpose of employment, and does not extend itself to developing assets. This criticism is often made without supporting data, as there has been little research on asset creation through NREGA. The authors of this paper published in Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) present the results of an informal evaluation of the economic impact of wells constructed through NREGA in Ranchi district, Jharkhand.
A survey was conducted on a set of of 11 NREGA wells in Purio Gram Panchayat in Ratu block (Ranchi district, Jharkhand). All the sample wells had been completed before October 2011 while the survey was conducted in March 2012. The respondents were small or marginal farmers who owned the land on which the wells were constructed. The survey centered on the following points:
- Costs incurred by them during construction
- How this cost was met
- Amount recovered from the NREGA funds
- Crops grown, cultivation costs and value of crops before and after the construction of the wells.
Impacts of NREGA wells
Impacts on agriculture:
The command areas of the wells include the land owners as well as other neighbouring farmers; accordingly, data pertaining to the entire command area was collected. Before well construction, paddy was the primary crop with two farmers also growing finger millet and mustard. Post-construction, wheat ,sugarcane, maize, and vegetables are being grown through the year (two-three seasons). On average, the respondents reported an increase of almost 50% in profits.
Water fromthese wells is also used for drinking, bathing and washing clothes. This is an important outcome in an area that traditionally have been considered poor in terms of accessibility to water
All is not well
Actual construction costs are higher than the sanctioned amount, because of a difference in prices of construction material in the government Schedule of Rates and in the market. Some money is also outlaid in bribes. This difference is borne by the owner. Delays in wage payments also causes tension, leading either to fights, or to the well owners advancing the amount themselves.
Perceptions of owners of wells
Despite the problems, the owners consider the wells to be a good investment. They report better nutrition, due to the diversity of food grown. Two respondents regretted the well since they ended up paying a lot out-of-pocket.
The authors report that 'Completed NREGA wells are clearly useful assets for not only their owners, but also for others who use their water, free of cost.' However, the construction of wells is a traumatic process, largely due to delay in payments, and insufficient construction costs. It is needed to carry out a similar survey in other parts of the country to objectively analyse asset creation through NREGA.
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