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Home > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/ A Ganesh Nadar in Tirunelveli

A boon for the rural jobless

August 03, 2007

Far from the bustling metropolises -- where the country shines brightest with its awesome steel and glass edifices, manic economic activity and frenzied consumption by a prospering urban populace -- there exists a rural India that liberalisation seems to have missed wholly.

Feeble agricultural growth, rural joblessness and abysmal poverty have led to untold suffering for millions. But for the first time since India's Independence, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government has taken a purposeful step to address this problem through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

The National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme is like a bright beacon at the end of dark, long tunnel: It promises at least one person from every rural household a minimum of 100 days of work in a year. One gets Rs 80 per seven-hour work day (about Rs 640 per month): admittedly not a princely sum, but enough to keep a man and his family from starving.

The first phase of the scheme, launched last year, has been implemented in 200 districts in India. The scheme is only for rural India; even those who living in town panchayats do not qualify. The current year has seen more districts being brought under the scheme.

Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu is one such district.

G Prakash, district collector, Tirunelveli. Photograph: A Ganesh Nadar

G Prakash, the energetic district collector, left, is all set to implement this scheme. Prakash was earlier additional collector Kanyakumari for tsunami relief.

"It is not just one job for every household," Prakash told "Even if ten people from the same family come to work, we will provide them with employment."

So how does the scheme work?

In the first phase, households that are in dire need of jobs are identified by pinpointing who live below the poverty line. Then each family is given a 'job card.' In Tirunelveli district, there are 300,000 families, all of whom have been given these cards. People now have to fill in the card and apply for a job.

Prakash expects 60 per cent compliance in Tirunelveli.

Apart from those existing below the poverty line, those who volunteer for work too are given the cards. If you want to volunteer for a job, you have to be willing, able and above 18 years of age. The jobs provided are for unskilled labour only.

The funds for the scheme are not be used to buy any material. This has been to ensure that all the money goes towards paying labourers and none of it is diverted under the pretext of buying construction material, etc.

The scheme operates under strict and inflexible guidelines. The work that may be done under NREGA includes:

  1. Digging a tank.
  2. Cleaning an existing tank, lake, pond, temple pond and any other place of water storage.
  3. Cleaning or creating water supply channels.
  4. Building or strengthening bunds (earthen dams).
  5. Laying mud roads.
  6. Engaging in soil conservation and soil erosion work.

No construction work can be done as purchasing of any material is not allowed. If it is harvest season in the area where the scheme is being implemented, work under NREGA will commence only after harvesting is over. Work under the scheme is provided only when needed, not while some other work (like harvesting) is available.

In Tirunelveli, work will begin in 38 panchayats first and then spread to the rest of the district. District officials have already visited Dindigul in central Tamil Nadu to study how the scheme is being implemented there. Some officials have also received training in Chennai.

The 38 panchayats have sent ideas as to what work they want done in their area: The cost of the work needed to be done in each of the panchayats has been estimated at Rs 13 lakh (Rs 1.3 million) to Rs 85 lakh (Rs 8.5 million). The initial budget sanctioned for the scheme is Rs 50 crore (Rs 500 million).

Wages are paid to the workers, in public, once a week on Tuesdays. Work timings will be 7 hours.

The scheme requires that all work sites must have water, rest house, first aid and a cr�che for the workers' children. Both women and men will receive equal wages. If a worker is ill or injured while working, s/he will be provided free medical treatment.

When a worker is unwell, s/he will be given half-pay. If one is seriously injured while working, the worker will be paid Rs 25,000. If someone is killed while at work, the next of kin will be given Rs 25,000. No work will be given on a contractual basis, and no equipment should be used for it.

Only cash is given as wages, not foodgrains as was the practice in some earlier employment guarantee schemes, says Prakash.

While creating national assets is on the agenda, giving jobs takes priority over all else in the scheme. The central government provides 90% of the funds needed for the implementation of the scheme and the state government pitches in with the rest.

The collector is entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the scheme, along with the District Rural Development Agencies (DRDAs).

Work in Tirunelveli district will start in mid-August when India celebrates 60 years of Independence. "We have set up a network of two teams of officers for this project. One has been sent to Cuddalore and one to Dindigul to check out how it is being implemented there," says Prakash.

"My project officer and I also went for training to Chennai. The rules and regulations of the scheme were made aware to us. After that, we trained DRDA staff members, panchayat clerks and makkal nalla paniyargal (gram sevaks)," adds Prakash.

"We trained almost 425 panchayat presidents in three different batches, where they understood the basics and the concept of the scheme. The logistics of the scheme have also been completed. Our aim is to cover those people those who really need jobs. The scheme provides for all, irrespective of whether or not they live below the poverty line. But we are concentrating on the poorest of the poor," he says.

"Job cards will be issued to all. They will have to give an application that they want to work under the scheme. We will give 10 people work from the same family if they are willing to work. We have to give at least 100 days of work at Rs 80 a day. The local area development work carried out by the MP or an MLA is not connected to this. Those are separate schemes," clarifies Prakash.

"We will try to create assets, but that is not the primary goal. The main objective is to provide work. We can create new ponds, mud roads, small bunds. It is employment guarantee. It does not have to be work for 100 days continuously. It will depend on the work required to be done and local conditions," the collector says.

"Every panchayat has already given us its list of work. The first phase is over. All ideas have been handed over to us. I have cleared the file and it is with the district project officer for implementation now. We will monitor the work to see that it is strictly implemented," he says.

With harvesting to conclude soon, those that would normally remain unemployed thereafter can now look forward to some respite because of the NREGA.

Photograph: A Ganesh Nadar

The Rediff Specials