In the last financial year 2006-07, less six per cent of households registered under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in the country have got 100 days of employment that the NREGA guarantees to all rural household interested to do manual labour.
This is revealed by a study conducted by Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), an NGO. Study by NREGS is based on a survey conducted in 21 districts of 14 states of India. These States included Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. Reference period for the survey was from April 1, 2006 to March 31, 2007.
National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 has come into force in 200 districts of India from February 2, 2006. In the current financial year NREGS has been extended to 330 districts. Budgetary allocation for last year was Rs. 11,300 crore while allocation for the current financial year 2007-08 is Rs. 12,000 crore.
The study also highlighted that 4 out of 14 surveyed states no State Employment Guarantee Council (SEGC) has been constituted in four states even after more than a year. These states are Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana and Orissa.
Gram Panchayats are implementing 81 per cent of the total projects (according to their costs) sanctioned under NREGS in districts surveyed the study shows. Gram Panchayats being closer and accountable to people are likely to implement these projects in more responsible manner. However, additional responsibility on Panchayats are not matched by devolution of functions, funds and functionaries to them. As a result, Gram Panchayats are under tremendous pressure.
Rural workers are still not aware of procedure to get their entitlements. In the 530 villages surveyed only 45 per cent of registered households surveyed have ever demanded for a job. From among those households who demanded job, only 27 per cent have been given a receipt. This trend is negating the right-based and demand-driven approach of NREGS.
Only about 44 per cent of households surveyed who demanded job responded that they have got job within prescribed 15 days from the date of application. Delayed allocation of job is negating one major objective of this Act to reduce rural distress. Despite such rampant delay, no unemployment allowance has been given to any of the households surveyed, as per provision of the Act.
About 42 per cent of the households surveyed responded that wages paid were less than minimum prescribed wages for agricultural labour in the state. Difficult daily assigned tasks, and deficiency in measurement have been cited as main reasons. Low-wage payment is badly affecting enthusiasm among workers and in some places they do not want to work under this scheme.
It is very important to revise schedule of rate so that any worker who performs seven hours of manual work should not get less than the minimum wages applicable in the state. Time and Motion study ought to be conducted to rationalise district schedule of rate (DSR). It was found that in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, revision of schedule of rates has led to substantial increase in wages.
About 54 per cent of registered household surveyed responded that payments were not made within the prescribed 15 days limit. Most of those working under NREGS are extremely poor and cannot sustain for so long without any wages. In some places workers prefer working outside with low wage rate but regular daily payments rather than working under NREGS.
It has been observed that different process has been adopted and different actors are involved in social audit mandated by the Act. Effectiveness of social audit is totally dependent on intentions and capacities of district and block-level officials. Social audit needs to be institutionalised and an autonomous structure at all three levels of Panchayats be created and Action Taken Report made mandatory. Non-threatening environment at local level needs to be build to make the entire process transparent.
(The writer can be contacted at [email protected])