|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
Can rural job quota scheme succeed?
December 20, 2005
It is widely accepted that with employment and earnings of near-starvation level, the unskilled rural poor, left completely out of the rapid development that some sections of India has experienced, need a strong boost and the NREG (National Rural Employment Guarantee) scheme can be the perfect solution to the problem.
Nevertheless, whether the unbelievably bureaucratic, file- and desk-bound, deliberately citizen-unfriendly and mostly corrupt government machinery can implement a scheme that requires reaching out to the poorest of the poor in the remotest hamlets is a matter of much concern.
Before attempting to find a solution, let us look at the current status of the National Food for Work Programme (NFFWP) launched in November 2004, and then look at necessary correctives.
Access to the Web site www.rural.nic.in on November 4, 2005, shows that NFFWP work has been taken up in 120 districts of 21 states. Unfortunately, reports on this Web site are full of errors and financial reports do not match physical reports.
For instance, in West Bengal Rs 11.206 crore (Rs 112.06 million) expenditure on works is shown against West Medinipur District but man-days worked is shown as 'NIL.' The corresponding figures for Bankura and Purulia Districts are Rs 94.59 lakh (Rs 9.459 million) and 5.18 lakh (518,000) man-days, and Rs 542.46 lakh (Rs 5.424 billion) and 13.06 lakh (1.306 million) man-days, respectively. This works out to Rs 18.26 a man-day in Bankura, and Rs 41.58 a man-day in Purulia against the state minimum wage of Rs 62.
Man-days worked under NFFWP in Arunachal Pradesh shown as 3.63 crore (36.3 million) is clearly a mistake. No expenditure on works is shown for this state, and this figure is out of tune with the total state population.
The states with the highest man-days are Madhya Pradesh with 1.519 crore (15.19 million) man-days; Andhra Pradesh with 1.169 crore (11.69 million) man-days; and Orissa with 1.113 crore (11.13 million) man-days. Corresponding expenditures on works are Rs 65.173 crore (Rs 651.74 million), Rs 56.468 core (Rs 564.68 million) and Rs 64.648 crore (Rs 646.48 million), respectively -- giving expenditure per man-day figures of Rs 42.90, Rs 48.30 and Rs 58.05, respectively.
Rs 7.996 crore (Rs 79.96 million) expenditure on works is shown against Maharashtra with NIL man-days worked. Conversely, 40.62 lakh (4.062 million) man-days worked are shown against Tamil Nadu with NIL expenditure on works. Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland and Punjab have not taken up work under the NFFWP.
Unless a sense of seriousness, with accountability for such errors, is injected into the scheme, there is little hope of effective NREG implementation. We need to realise that even if only 5 per cent of those eligible under NREG apply for work, NREG at the initial stage itself will involve 2.5 times as many man-days as NFFWP.
NFFWP guidelines required preparation, under the District Collector's orders, of an elaborate five-year perspective plan for works to be executed in each district. Local panchayats and administration, MLAs and MPs would then fix priorities.
The NREG provides for programme co-ordinators at district level and BDO rank programme officers at the block level. Perspective plans have been replaced by requiring the programme officer to consolidate project proposals received from village and intermediate panchayats. This has the advantage of simplicity, but problems with progress and quality of work are inevitable in the absence of any technical or management support.
Involving teachers of the nearest engineering colleges and management institutions for design and project management support could be a cost-effective solution. Their students could help with field work and data compilation. Rates and procedures for requisitioning this -- on a minimal cost-recovery basis -- should be fixed.
This will have the added advantage of sensitising local educational institutions to local needs and realities. Advance guidelines and approved rates for local procurement of materials and essential skilled labour within specified limits are necessary.
With the exception of computerisation in railways and PSU banks, e-governance in India is at its infancy with just a few pilots running here and there with no nationwide replication. Even the railways Web site is slow and often inaccessible. The NREG is an excellent opportunity for our IT experts to show what they can do for Indian governance.
Web-based software reporting systems -- that not only report progress at every work-site, complete with photographs on a weekly to fortnightly basis, but also show muster rolls with photographs of every workman and reflect every single payment to every workman -- should be an integral part of NREG.
NIC, DIT and India's top software firms could create a basic software for this web-based reporting. Thereafter, local hardware and software support can be arranged locally at every district, block and work-site for seamless real-time reporting of every local work under NREG.
The above engineering, management and information systems support is unlikely to cost more than 1 per cent of total NREG cost, and will be recovered many times over by the enthusiasm, discipline and reduced scope for corruption that such a visible information system will ensure.
Only this kind of a 21st century approach can make the NREG scheme a real success.
More Guest Columns