The notion of rural development is quite comprehensive and extensive. Rural development signifies a process involving fundamental transformation of rural society both at social and economic levels. Rural transformation in general has been conceptualized as modernization, changes in rural economic structure, and the migration of the population from the farming sector to the non-farming sectors. Indian government has launched several programs for the upliftment of rural economy. One such flagship established with specific end goal of evacuating unemployment and monetary hardship of the rural poor is Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The very core objective of this act is to give every rural people an opportunity to work in a guaranteed manner.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) enacted by Indian Government on 25 August 2005 was renamed as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) on 2nd October 2009 on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The act was implemented in three phases: The first phase of the implementation of this act covered over 200 districts in 2006 and in 2007 it was extended to 150 additional districts in second phase and all the rural areas were covered in third phase 2008 onwards. This act enabled right to work a legal obligation and right for Unemployment remittances if there should arise an occurrence of non-portion of job guaranteed. This flagship initiative is regarded and recognized comprehensively by administration of India and acknowledged on worldwide as the largest public works employment project. The foundation of MGNREGA is to decrease the Poverty and useful in the eradication of hunger. While this enactment is securing the fundamental right of rural population to work and to make them more stable, additionally ensuring the financial foundation through giving guaranteed employment, it is also augmenting work market result.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), 2005, states in its preamble that its objective is
“to provide for the enhancement of livelihood security of the households in rural areas of the country by providing at least one hundred days of guaranteed wage employment in every financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
Briefly – a household who is eligible to work obtains a job card issued by the local administration — the Gram Panchayat. An individual wanting to work applies for such work in writing, with the understanding that such work would be provided within 15 days and within 5 km of the village. In the case of work allocated is beyond the mandated 5 km, the worker is eligible for extra wages of 10 percent as travel costs. Each household is entitled to 100 days per year so that the allocation of who works how much from the household and when is to be decided by the household. Workers are assigned to specific projects which is decided primarily by the Gram Sabha, each in conjunction with appropriate technical design, cost and labour days estimates. The works generally implicate unskilled manual labour, with limited use of machines. The enactment allows for a 60:40 ratio of wage and material costs to be maintained ideally at the Panchayat level. Essentially, work is measured each day and payment is made weekly within a fortnight, according to the appropriate Schedule of Rates for different types of work in different conditions.
This demand-driven programme has contributed significantly to provide the “freedom of choice” of work and dignified work opportunities along with rights and entitlements especially for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, women, landless, and other marginalized groups that depend on traditional caste-based occupations and agricultural landlords in the villages for their livelihoods. This has by and large bestowed to protecting their self-respect and dignity in workspaces and helped control migration.
Furthermore, when MGNREGA was introduced, it was not all new. It descents from and shares several features with other programmes. Even as early as the in the 1960s, the Third Five Year Plan (1961-66) referenced the need to provide 100 days of employment. In 1972, in response to a major drought, Maharashtra government put in place an Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) which has offered the inspiration and learning for MGNREGA.In fact, when NREGA was notified on 7 September 2005, it consolidated the then on-going yojana of the Jawahar Gram Samridhi Yojana (JGSY), Employment Assurance Scheme (EAS) and Sampoorna Grameen Rojgar Yojana (SGRY).
MGNREGA was, however, different from most of these schemes in considerable aspects. The fundamental objective was social protection for the most vulnerable people living in rural India through providing guaranteed employment opportunities. It explicitly aimed to create durable assets including drought-proofing and flood management, and aid in the empowerment of the marginalised. The programme also aimed to strengthen decentralized, participatory planning and Panchayati Raj Institutions for deepening democracy at the grassroots, while fostering greater transparency and accountability in governance. Thus, while it adopted a demand-driven approach with a guarantee as with other schemes, it included several additional components meant to strengthen entitlements, ensure transparency and promote an exceptionally bottom-up approach. In terms of transparency too, MGNREGA outperformed the previous schemes. The websites provide real time data on a large number of parameters associated with its performance. What’s unique is the programme has the provisions for social audits, where people audit the programme twice a year. This involve public verification of expenditure in a Gram Sabha and allows not just an important feedback and accountability mechanism but also provides a platform for civil society to engage with the programme.
MGNREGA has become a powerful instrument for women empowerment in rural India through its effect on livelihood security and democratic governance and social protections. The scheme has truly a positive results on women empowerment, in so far as it has carried out a number of practical gender issues. The Act is all inclusive in its very basic nature. It rules that a minimum of one-third of the beneficiaries of the scheme should be women who have registered and demanded employment under the scheme. Women participation has increased significantly, thereby increasing their economic conditions. Equal wages to both male and female is ensuring that gender discrimination is addressed. This no doubt is leading towards the development of country. To make this scheme more favorable to women in a long way certain short-term barriers which restrict women’s participation should be addressed. One such issue is lack of proper child care facilities for the women workers. Women participation can be increased by creating awareness and proving proper education on this scheme.
Further, recently the scenario of a pandemic posed a formidable challenge for state governments to arrange suitable job opportunities for securing people’s livelihoods. While some state governments productively engaged them in the Small and Medium enterprises (SMEs), others facilitated their absorption in the rural economy through farm operations. In this bleak scenario, the much-criticized MGNREGA provided a ray of hope.
MGNREGA is viewed as diverse yojana designed to achieve a number of goals at once, demanding close coordination across departments and layers of administration. All this while also attempting to build in robust and reliable accountability structures. Although the scheme has a national character, it varies substantially across states in the effectiveness of implementation. The compelling feature of the Act is that it appears to be quite meaningful and powerful for rural development in general and women empowerment in particular for the entire nation. Nonetheless, it is active participation of people and obligation of work force at various levels which will make the scheme successful just like any other scheme.
-Sindhu Rani (Freelancer)
Picture Credits: ruralmarketing.in