NREGA and rural water management in India: Improving the welfare effects – An occasional paper by IRAP

This occasional paper looks at improving the welfare effects of National Rural Employment Gurantee Act (NREGA) and rural water management in India.

NREGA is being eulogized by many in the academic, development and policy arena as a “silver bullet” for eradicating rural poverty and unemployment, by way of generating demand for productive labour force in villages and private incentives for management of common property resources.

NREGS, one of the largest social protection initiatives in the world, promised a lot on water management front but a quick analysis of the types of interventions and limited field evidences suggest that the planning and implementation of water management works are seriously flawed due to the total absence of hydrological and economic analysis. The types of interventions chosen for execution in different zones are not based on considerations of agro-climate, hydrological regime and geological settings, which are of paramount importance in deciding the effectiveness of land and water based interventions.

The paper argues that the nature of water management activities chosen under the scheme and the callous way in which these activities are planned and implemented in different regions, without any consideration to their physical and socio-economic realities of the regions concerned, are creating several negative welfare effects.

It identifies three broad and distinct regional typologies in India characterized by a combination of agro climatic, hydrological and geological settings for deciding the nature of water management interventions for different regions, and proposes the types for water management works under NREGS for each typology, which has the potential to generate labour demand, while producing welfare effects.

That said within each typology, a lot of scientific inputs would be required for technical planning of the water management works for any given locality. Some of this may have to come from detailed investigations of catchment hydrology, geo-hydrology, topography and slope characteristics.

The paper can be downloaded below –

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