The NDA government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, not only surprised people by continuing with the UPA-designed Mgnrega scheme, but reshaped it into a new model of “Antyodaya”
Eleven years ago the UPAi ntroduced a programme called MGNREGA with a long-term political objective of alluring voters. When the NDA government under Modi came to power in 2014, there were speculations that this programme would be discontinued, or if not, fund allocation will be curtailed. But the Prime Minister surprised everyone by continuing with it but also augmenting its fund allocation in the winter budget session of 2015. The budget session was followed by rounds of criticism in the media and disapproval by the PM’s supporters for adopting the programme which had become an epitome of corruption.
There were many reasons for which MGNREGA had been criticised unremittingly. The biggest reason was that it had put all other growth activities like agriculture, production, and construction in distress by creating scarcity of labour force. Factories in vicinity of MGNREGA villages experienced shortage of unskilled workers. Another criticism was due to massive corruption and misappropriation of funds due to lack of monitoring and proper checks. Hard to imagine that ghost workers were getting full payments and real ones were getting with illegitimate cuts. Even people raised several
questions on the objective of this programme, practically saying one objective of this programme which gained popularity is, “gaddha khodo, gaddha bharo”.
It’s imperative to see how MGNREGA performed in last financial year, budget provision for it for FY 2016-17 was Rs 48,220 crore, however, the expenditure reported from the field has been more than Rs 58,356 crore including State’s share, and this has been the highest since the inception of the program. In this period employment was provided to 5.11 Crore households in 157 lakh works, which can be translated into more than 235 crore person-days of employment. In same year the programme showed the way for women empowerment by generating 56% of total employment for women, which is the highest participation by women.
Earlier, average completion of the works used to be around 25 to 35 lakh, but last year it witnessed huge surge where more than 60 lakh works were completed, which has almost doubled in the said period. As per media reports, the unemployment rate estimated by CMIE and BSE fell sharply in the six months to 4.8 per cent in February from 9.5 pe cent in August 2016, and economists at the country’s largest lender SBI attributed the sharp dip in unemployment to the government efforts at pushing job creation in rural areas through the MGNREGA.
Earlier the MGNREGA was known as the programme for un-skilled as the major focus was on providing
nities for them only, due to which people were motivated to remain unskilled instead of utilising time in learning new skills.
The Prime Minister has been stressing on “Skill Development”. In pursuance of this objective he has introduced the initiative called ‘Bare Foot Technicians’, for the skill development of MGNREGA workers. MGNREGA works which demand skill resources are assigned to someone from the newly formed pool of trained and skilled technical resources called BFTs. To run this gigantic and complex programme like MGNREGA, both quality and quantity of human resources are required, but in reality there is lack of technical personnel at Gram Panchayat level, which leads to inadequate supervision of ongoing works affecting the quality of final assets, along with delay in measurement resulting in delay of payment to workers. In this condition comes the smart idea of BFT, where a person from the local active MGNREGA households is identified and trained in various skills and basic civil engineering concepts under DDUGKY, RSETI, and Rural Mason programs. The key role of BFT is to determine Scope and nature of work, plan and estimate works, supervise and oversee works, and maintain technical registers and records. In the year 2016-17, 3812 MGNREGA workers moved up in skilling ladder by becoming BFTs after training.
The sense of self-reliance and empowerment can be inculcated into the marginalized communities. For that government has introduced the new plan called “Livelihoods in Full Employment” under MGNREGA (LIFE). Project LIFE- MGNREGA is an initiative of Ministry of Rural Development aiming at convergence with Deen Dayal Upadhaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (DDU-GKY) and National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM). For this initiative Ministry has issued the guidelines, identified and listed the eligible households, and provided the customized survey formats to states to facilitate the quick collection of information. Till Dec 2016, 23 States had submitted their State Skilling Plan, which have been approved by the Empowered Committee, now these states have started the implementation. If government succeeds in this, MGNREGA will not only be known for employment guarantee but also for Livelihood guarantee.
For greater transparency, better planning, and effective monitoring, the government leveraged the space technology. Geo-MGNREGA, launched in 2016-17 is a great technological breakthrough that uses satellites for geo-tagging all assets created under the program. Till now more than one crore assets have been geotagged and made available for viewing in public domain. This GIS Solution intends to provide a single and integrated view of asset information system pan rural India.
Integration of UIDAI Aadhaar in MGNREGA MIS has proved beneficial to boost transparency. It ensured that wages are paid to beneficiaries through ABPS to make payment processes entirely digital, and transparent. Digital identity authentication through Aadhaar helped in weeding out of duplicate/bogus beneficiaries from the database, which is one more step forward in bringing transparency. During Job card verification/ updation drive during FY 2016-17, more than 92 lakh fake job cards were identified and weeded out after careful examination. Digital identity has contributed to delivering convenience to the beneficiary. As of now Aadhaar details of over 85 per cent of active MGNREGA workers have been seeded in the system with their consent and 4.85 crores workers are already on the Aadhaar payment bridge- linked Bank accounts, also 95 per cent of payments are being done through DBT and only about five percent are given in cash. This initiative has abated the major pain area of timely payments to workers. In the current financial year government was able to pay 89.08 percent of the wage payments within 15 days of work done. This is being seen as a major milestone achieved by the government.
As promised, Government has put in all the possible efforts for the transformation of MGNREGA to revive the Rural India again. The government has manifested the great example of turning adversity into opportunity. It has not been long since the transformation of MGNREGA started, but it has already started bearing the fruits in the form of valuable assets creation, employment generation, livelihood opportunities, greater transparency, and reduced corruption. Imagine, if these initial results are cascaded over the years, the day is not far when this nation will understand the meaning of “Antyodaya”.
(The writer is a Management Graduate, a consultant with Big4 firm)