National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) that was operationalised from 2nd February 2006 marks a major paradigm shift from the earlier wage employment schemes as it creates a rights-based framework for wage employment making the government legally accountable for providing employment to those who ask for it. NREG Act provides for the enhancement of livelihood security of households in rural areas of the country, although some experts also commented that �Schemes like NREGS go against the principle of teaching a man how to fish and instead give him the fish?� But is ending all schemes, the right solution? The main objective of the programme is to create employment opportunities and physical and social infrastructure in rural areas, which reduces rural to urban migration. NREGS is a demand-based programme, and hence, the requirement of funds and employment generation will depend on demand for work. People have to submit a written application for employment to the Gram Panchayat, stating the time and duration for which work is sought. Then employment is to be given within 15 days of application for work, and if it is not then daily unemployment allowance is to be given. The budget outlay provided by the GoI under NREGS has increased continuously from Rs.11,300 crores (in 2006-07) to Rs.12,000 crores (in 2007-08) and Rs.30,000 crores (in 2008-09). NREGS has managed to raise rural wages and also the minimum wages have been revised upwards in some states (Fig 1).
Source: – www.nrega.nic.in/wages.pdf
The national overview of the programme shows that the total employment provided under NREGS was 2.10 crore (in 2006-07) , 3.39 crore (in 2007-08) and 3.51 crore (in 2008-09 till Dec 2008). Women�s participation has increased from 41% in 2006-07 to 49% in 2008-09. The number of households provided employment in states has increased since operationalisation and was more for states in which more districts were covered (in phase 1 of NREGS). The graph below validates this finding (Fig 2).
Source: – http://rural.nic.in/budget/Budgetframe.htm and http://nrega.nic.in
Main problem of NREGS is with the implementation of the programme. Focus should be on how the outcomes can be improved. There is need to issue electronic job cards to the workers and provide adequate manpower (administrative and technical) for preparation of plans, scrutiny, approval, monitoring and measurement of works, maintenance of the stipulated records at the block and Gram Panchayat levels. To ensure proper record-keeping, some training is also required. The list of permissible works needs to be broader, for example it could have training and skill development programmes for unskilled workers so that at later stages they could benefit from their enhanced skills–this may require a slight change in budget share. The need for greater transparency to minimize corruption, can be achieved by greater use of Post Office/Banks to ensure full wage payments; and requiring Gram Panchayats to display information daily about work sites and workers employed. Any discrepancies could then be highlighted by the job seekers. A more frequent audit would also help to make this programme implementation more effective.