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Debraj Bhattacharya
Tuesday , November 27, 2012 at 12 : 49

MGNREGS: Lofty idea, faulty implementation


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Jairam Ramesh and the Ministry of Rural Development deserve to be congratulated for making the Annual Report for 2011-12 available in the public domain. It is available in the Ministry's website, can be easily downloaded, it is well-written and smartly produced. Well done indeed!

The report, more than 200 hundred pages of it, provides an impressive list of schemes that Government of India is implementing in order to help the poor people of India. Indeed, if you think that Government of India is doing nothing except to pamper the corporate class you will be making a mistake. There are schemes for housing, for creation of Self-Help-Groups, for pension to the elderly etc. There are impressive numbers in the report to back this up. More funds have been allocated over the 11th five year plan period, there is more coverage, so on and so forth.

So if the problem is not so much in the allocation of funds for rural development programmes, where is the problem? If the rather impressive figures presented in the Annual Report are correct then why poverty experts are saying that 421 million people in 8 states of India are desperately poor? In fact, the experts have pointed out, this number is more than the number of poor people in 26 sub-Saharan countries of Africa. This is bad news indeed for an emerging world power!

In order to understand this problem, I decided to take a closer look at the tables presented at the back of the Annual Report on India's most ambitious rural development scheme - the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme or MGNREGS. As is well known, India has given its poor rural citizens the right to demand unskilled employment and the Government is bound to give every household up to 100 days of work. So I tried to find out in the 8 poorest states identified by the poverty experts, what is the record of MGNREGS as well as the overall national average. Surely in these poor states, the rural poor need work? Is MGNREGS able to provide them 100 days of work as promised?

I tried to look at three things - (a) on an average how many days of work did the households get, (b) what percentage of households got the promised 100 days of work, and (c) out of the total funds available for the scheme what percentage was spent? The answers are available in the table below.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
            
Implementation of MGNREGS in Select States of India 2011-12                    
State
Average persondays per household
%HH completed 100 days of employment
% expenditure against total available fund
Bihar
31
5.96
33.47
Chhattisgarh
36
5.96
66.83
Jharkhand
33
2.17
61.78
Madhya Pradesh
35
3.43
47.37
Rajasthan
36
2.81
48.81
Uttar Pradesh
31
2.31
60.09
Odisha
30
1.73
67.41
West Bengal
17
0.47
57.06
India
34
3.44
56.85
Source: Annual Administrative Report 2011-12, Ministry of Rural Development Government of India; pp. 191-92
    

It can be seen that in all the states, performance is quite bad and indeed the national average is also only 34 days. Less than four per cent of households covered have received full hundred days of employment. What is worst is the fact that only about 57 per cent of the money that was available was actually spent.

The data points toward the poor implementation of the most important rural development scheme of Government of India. Here is a scheme where money is not a problem and yet it is able to spend only 57 per cent of the total available fund. In fact it is possible to take an even closer look at some of the poorest districts and show MGNREGS is not functioning properly at all where it is most needed. For example, official figures for MGNREGS implementation in Aurangabad district of Bihar show a big zero. In other words, the scheme is completely dysfunctional in this poor district of Bihar.

This failure is symptomatic of what's wrong with India's ambitions of "inclusive growth". Schemes are being designed one after another, allocation is increasing thanks to the economic growth but the machinery responsible for the implementation of various schemes is simply too weak and inefficient. There is no system of punishment of the authorities who are responsible for the failure. If a state does not take enough effort to implement a national flagship programme there is very little that the Central government can do apart from writing letters. If a district fails to deliver there is very little that a principal secretary of the rural development department can do except to shout in the review meetings. No one will lose his job, no one will be suspended. On the other hand, if in a gram panchayat the employees and the elected representatives work very hard and achieve remarkable results then at the end of the month they will get exactly the same honorarium/salary as the employees and representatives of another gram panchayat who perform badly.

So where is the incentive to implement a scheme like MGNREGS? Why should someone work more to implement a scheme if there is no financial reward for it? The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind.


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More about Debraj Bhattacharya

Debraj Bhattacharya is an alumnus of Presidency College, Calcutta, and currently is with Institute of Social Sciences, a civil society organisation, where he researches on contemporary development issues. He has earlier edited a book of essays, "Of Matters Modern: The Experience of Modernity in Colonial and Post-Colonial South Asia" (2008) and has written several reports on rural development issues of India. He also writes in more popular vein in newspapers in English and Bengali.

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