The MGNREGA has been under scrutiny, of late, both from its traditional baiters as well supporters. The former’s attack has revolved around the programme — the flagship of the previous UPA dispensation — creating assets of poor quality, while the latter have been fretting against delayed wage payments.
The rural development ministry, which administers the scheme that promises 100 days of guaranteed employment to those issued job cards, has sought to address both concerns in the current fiscal.
The ministry, in an internal end-year assessment report of the programme, has identified “better” and “more productive” works for execution in 2015-16, while setting estimated outcomes and cost for each. These include those related to water, irrigation, afforestation, agriculture, roads, sanitation, gram panchayat buildings and Indira Awas Yojana houses, among others.
The ministry claims that on implementation of these works, more than 30 lakh hectares of rainfed agricultural lands will have water conservation works, while there would be assured irrigation in over 9 lakh hectares and afforestation in 6 lakh hectares. Besides, 6.3 lakh individual toilets will get built as part of the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan and construction of 13,000 gram panchayat buildings be taken up to ensure each panchayat has a pucca building.
Ministry officials say the latest move is aimed at bringing about a clear “outcome orientation” of the works under the scheme. The directives towards this were issued to states last August itself. Setting specific targets for each category of work for this financial year will ensure the objective of creating productive assets would be fulfilled.
According to the officials, it will also be easier to take rectification steps where outcomes achieved are significantly lower than the estimates. The work completion rate in the last financial year was only around 26 per cent.
Meanwhile, faced with a dismally low timely wage payment record in 2014-15 — with less than 30 per cent of the wages being paid within the stipulated 15 days of the work getting done — the ministry is institutionalising an IT-based SMS alert system to “allow constant monitoring of each muster till the payment is made”.
According to the ministry’s assessment report, this has “already started showing results” with the proportion of timely payments jumping from 28 per cent in 2014-15 to 70 percent during the current fiscal so far. Officials expect the new system to enable up to 90 per cent of wage payments to be made within the stipulated time this year.
The ministry’s internal assessment report – which seeks to give a round-up of 2014-15 and the way ahead for 2015-16 – quotes several independent studies to state that the scheme has addressed “41 per cent of the problem of underemployment in rural areas”, arrested distress migration, provided risk-resilience to small/marginal farmers, given sustainable work to rural women and had an overall “positive impact” on financial inclusion.Observers say that the rural development ministry’s current steps may have been prompted by MGNREGA’s dismal performance in 2014-15 and to fend off allegations that the current NDA government is trying to “dilute” the scheme.
The ministry’s data shows that the average days of employment provided per household fell to 40.14 last year from 45.97 in 2013-14, while the ratio of payments generated within 15 days plummeted from 50.1 to 28.06 per cent in the same period. This, despite 2014-15 being a drought year that ought to have generated significant demand for MGNREGA works.