Policy paper on NREGA by the Centre for Science and Environment

The policy paper by Centre for Science and Environment tries to unearth the development potential of a public wage programme like the NREGA

The policy brief has studied the NREGA implementation on its focus on creation of productive assets, the involvement of communities in designing their local development using the NREGA and the stumbling blocks in unlocking the development potential of the Act. 

Like in Hiware Bazar, NREGA has codified the dominant roles of local communities through Panchayats. Then the question arises: Is NREGA able to usher in economic boom in villages in the last two years? It is in this context CSE has focused its policy brief on the development potential of NREGA. It is more than two years since the Act was implemented in 200 backward districts to begin with. CSE researchers traveled to 12 districts spread over nine states to assess the development impacts of NREGA. Though it may be early to quantify the impacts, but studying the implementation process can surely hint about the future impacts. 

The report presents the following opportunities and challenges -

  • Spring of development NREGA is catching up people’s development imagination. Policy makers have to focus on the Act’s development effectiveness. In 2006-07 alone NREGA has created more than half a million productive assets, mostly water and soil conservation structures. Each of them has potential to herd out poverty from villages.  
  • On the other hand, the Act has not been able to generate the kind of employment demand as expected. It has created at an average 43 days of employment in 2006-07.
  • But at the state level, there have been very few states that give importance to creation of productive assets under the Act. Under NREGA, each district, on an average, has spent Rs. 44 crore, but the bulk of this has not been on water conservation. Despite the officially stated ‘non-negotiable’ focus on water and soil conservation, funds in most states are being spent on roads and buildings. Three states – AP, MP and Jharkhand – accounted for 96 per cent of water conservation works under NREGA. This negates the development potential of the Act. 
  • Conceptually, decentralisation is part of the scheme. The village has to make a development plan; the projects have to be cleared by   the Gram Sabha and implemented by the Panchayat.  In all the states it was found that the Act is still being implemented as another wage employment programme. The design of development at village level has become a ritual. This is due to the larger problem of devolution of power to Panchayat in the country. 
  • There is a linkage between less focus on water conservation activities and the wage structure under the Act. Irrational wage calculation formula has made productive assets creation less lucrative to local communities in term of accessing minimum wage on time under the NREGA.
  • The provision for adopting National Food for Work Programme (NFFWP) plans for NREGA during interim period has resulted in bypassing new village plans. This in long term will discourage local participation in NREGA, as our studies point out.
  • There are reports of less and less people participating in Gram Saha meetings on NREGA works. It is evident that the potential is huge for poverty-stricken villages. But it needs a change in our thinking and approach to NREGA. This has to first come from our policy makers who put in place this Act. Instead of hyping or discounting the Act’s success in terms of employment generation only, it will be prudent to rethink its development agenda. 

Please click below to download the guidelines and policy paper -

NREGA Guidelines from Ministry of Rural Development (2008)    

CSE Policy paper on NREGA

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