Job scheme works best when it creates assets: study

March 31st, 2008 - 6:33 pm ICT by admin  


New Delhi, March 31 (IANS) The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) has huge potential for regenerating village economy in India, but only if its focus remains on the creation of productive assets, says a study. Carried out by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the New Delhi-based voluntary organisation, the study looked at NREGA implementation across 12 districts in nine states and made a set of recommendations here Monday. The act is to be extended to the entire country Tuesday.

“The act brings huge possibilities of making a difference to the lives in 45 million rural households. Over the two years that it has been in existence, NREGA has already created half-a-million assets and provided jobs to around three percent of India’s population,” CSE director Sunita Narain said.

“Our study shows that people essentially want two things - productive assets and regular wages. Wherever the act has failed to meet these needs, its implementation has collapsed.”

“This is the world’s largest ecological regeneration programme for building assets - water conservation structures and afforestation - for economic change and we have to realise its potential and make it work,” she added.

“Instead of implementing and evaluating the act purely in terms of employment creation, the focus should have been on the real impacts on local development through productive assets creation,” the CSE chief said.

The study finds that most of the NREGA money has gone for road construction, instead water conservation and harvesting.

This has happened because “irrational wage calculations have made projects like water conservation less lucrative,” says Richard Mahapatra, lead researcher of the CSE study.

Mahapatra points out that panchayats (village councils) are increasingly demanding more roads and other construction works because road construction “gets them the minimum wage, and sometimes even more than that.”

The programme is also plagued by incomplete and abandoned works and lack of maintenance of completed works, the study finds. Out of 769,582 works under progress, only 158,277 (20.56 percent) have been completed.

“People will participate in NREGA only if the programme succeeds in making an impact on their lives,” says Mahapatra.

The CSE study lists a set of steps that will ensure that impact. These include:

* Measure not just the wage provided but also the asset created and its effectiveness. This will make village development, through productive assets creation, the primary objective.

* Make wage payment people and development friendly. Provide a premium wage for development programmes, which will ensure that work done is completed and is useful.

* Continue to emphasise water conservation works under NREGA by providing additional incentives.

* Make the completion and maintenance of works under NREGA mandatory.

* Give importance to afforestation under NREGA by linking it to other forestry programmes - joint forest management or watershed management.

* Do more to strengthen village-level planning and decision making by revamping the current operational structures.

* Equip panchayats with the necessary personnel and funds for effective implementation of the programme.

Narain said: “This is a programme not just for short-term relief during drought or distress. It is a programme for long-term relief against drought.

“It can use the labour of people to build ecological assets - rebuild and regenerate the environment - which will provide people the wherewithal to cope and even overcome the next drought and scarcity.”

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