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Modifying NREGA

Modifying NREGA
Highlights

Narendra Modi government’s decision to contain the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme (NREGA) has drawn flak. The Telangana legislature adopted an unanimous resolution ap- pealing to the Centre to reconsider its decision.

NREGA can be suitably amended to incorporate skill component by taking up intensive skill-development training of rural workers

Narendra Modi government’s de- cision to contain the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme (NREGA) has drawn flak. The Telangana legislature adopted an unanimous resolution ap- pealing to the Centre to reconsider its decision.

Modi government is aware of the fact that this scheme is the most popular one which in fact greatly con- tributed to the re-election of UPA in 2009.

He knows its withdrawal will invite serious protest. Thus, the gov- ernment chose to limit the implemen- tation to only one-third of the area. None would disagree with the fact that there was large- scale misappropriation of funds. It is also a fact that the scheme failed to create durable assets in many places.

But, will this be a ground for minimising the reach of the scheme? There was unprecedented swin- dling of resources in allocation of coal and spectrum.

But, still the govern- ment continues to allocate them in a more transparent and corruption-free manner. A similar approach could have been applied to NREGA as well. Certain sections of peasantry are annoyed w ith NREGA as it in creased the demand for labour in the rural ar- eas. This led to rise in the wages of agricultural labour, contributing to the growing cost of production. This problem could be addressed in three ways.

For instance, the United Andhra Pradesh government exten- sively used the scheme for land de- velopment and community water schemes. Now, the Telangana gov- ernment also plans to use it in ‘Mis- sion Kakatiya’, the massive pro- gramme for reviving 45,000 tanks.

This approach can be furthered in the interests of farmers. Linking NREGA with small and marginal agriculture can address the concerns of farmers while providing employment to the landless.

Implementation of the NREGA can be stalled during agri- cultural season so that the farmers can be relieved of the burden of ris- ing labour demand. The Act itself aims at providing work during the non-agricultural season. Yet, another problem often cited is the poor quality of works done under NREGA. But, this is not the problem exclusive to this programme only. Many government schemes suffer from pilferage, but we can- not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Strict monitoring at the grassroots level, effective social audit and other measures can go a long way in addressing this prob- lem. The works taken up can drasti- cally be revised to ensure that it de- livers durable and productive assets. NREGA aims at providing assured employment to unskilled rural labour. But, how long can one identify un- skilled work?

Therefore, the NREGA can be suitably amended to incorpo- rate skill component. Such a change should be accompanied by massive skilling of rural workers. The NREGA can act as a stimulus in a recession-ridden economy by cre- ating huge domestic demand.

Women and other marginalised sections are amongst its major beneficiaries. Modi should think of modifying the pro- gramme rather than sharply contain- ing it, which may ultimately end up in the death of the significant legal entitlement for rural poor

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