Following is the text of the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh’s address at the release of MGNREGA Sameeksha :
“I am very happy to release the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA Sameeksha, brought out by the Ministry of Rural Development. This is an innovative way of looking at our development programmes. I compliment Shri Jairam Ramesh for taking the initiative to reach out to scholars in different parts of our country to apply their minds to analysis of what is being achieved, what is possible, what is not yet being achieved and what are the gaps in performance, what are the gaps in our knowledge of what is happening. So I hope that this programme of looking at programmes in real time will gain momentum. I am surprised to here from Jairam that concurrent evaluation processes are not in good shape. When I was in the Planning Commission long ago I think we had started the programme of concurrent evaluation for a number of programmes of rural development. I don’t no why they are languishing if they are at all languishing. But I would request Montek to apply his mind to making good this deficiency as well.
I am very happy to release Mahatma Gandhi NREGA Sameeksha, brought out by the Ministry of Rural Development. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is perhaps the UPA Government’s most popular and successful flagship programme. Shri Jairam Ramesh has written in the ‘Sameeksha’ that it is perhaps the largest and most ambitious social security and public works programme in the world.
Even if statistics do not tell the whole truth, the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA story in numbers is a story worth telling. In 2010-11, nearly 5.50 crore families, or nearly one in four rural households, were provided over 250 crore person-days of work under the programme. This is a sharply higher figure than the 90 crore person days of work provided in the first year of the Scheme in 2006-07.
The Scheme scores high on inclusiveness. The share of Scheduled Cast/Scheduled Tribe families in the work has been 51 per cent and that of women 47 per cent. The average wage per person-day has gone up by 81% since the Scheme’s inception. Wages are indexed to protect workers from the ravages of inflation.
Nearly 10 crore bank/post office accounts have been opened and around 80 per cent of Mahatma Gandhi NREGA payments are made through this innovative route, an unprecedented step in the direction of financial inclusion.
The safety net provided by this Scheme has helped rural India cope with the frequent distress and natural disasters that are their lot. The combined effect of expanded agricultural production, demand for labour from the construction sector and the effect of Mahatma Gandhi NREGA has led to a tightening of the market for agricultural labour and a steady rise in real wages. Farmers sometimes complain about this. But rising demand for labour is the only way to help the landless improve their standard of living. The income support provided under Mahatma Gandhi NREGA has increased the bargaining power of agricultural labour to some extent and it has helped to put a floor under rural poverty as well.
All this is not to say that we are fully satisfied with the way the Scheme is working. Jairam and Mihir Shah have both pointed to the gaps that need to be fixed. But it is probably true that no welfare scheme in recent memory has caught the imagination of the people as much as Mahatma Gandhi NREGA has. But many challenges need to be overcome.
Panchayati Raj institutions have to gear themselves to play the central role assigned to them under the Scheme and we have to provide resources to equip the Panchayats to perform these functions effectively. If these local bodies can rise to the challenge, the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA can very well become a ‘silver bullet’ for India’s rural renewal.
Mahatma Gandhi NREGA’s potential to revitalize agriculture by creating durable water assets and improving productivity has to be fully exploited. And this is the direction in which we must move and move fast enough. Going through some of the studies, one recognizes the enormous complexity of the issue and the large local variations. The challenge before policy makers is to design more flexible, scientific and community based approaches that encourage implementing agencies to be innovative and responsive to local needs and circumstances.
Spreading awareness and engendering a sense of commitment and participation among beneficiaries are important goals. The Sameeksha shows how local initiatives are helping to tackle these issues. In Rajasthan, the main provisions of the Scheme are being displayed on the walls of Gram Panchayats. In Jharkhand, voluntary organizations have set up help centres to create awareness and provide hand holding services to beneficiaries. Similar voluntary initiatives could help Gram Sabhas as well.
Mahatma Gandhi NREGA is also a pioneering scheme for e-delivery of services and increased transparency. Through the Management Information System currently used by Mahatma Gandhi NREGA more than 9 crore muster rolls and over 12 crore job cards have been placed online. The system has the potential of further development, including through the use of mobile communication technologies.
I am encouraged to learn that in Andhra Pradesh data entry is in real time and pay orders for wage payments are generated online. This directly addresses the issue of delayed payments and should be replicated elsewhere. And as Mihir said there is a problem in this area and sooner we tackle this problem of delayed payments, I think better results would be in the offing.
The section on gender empowerment is particularly heartening. One study concludes that a silent revolution is taking place among rural women due to the Scheme. Wage disparities are being reduced and women are coming out more in the public sphere to take up work and interact with banks, post offices and government officials. This has done wonders for their self-confidence and given them a greater say in financial matters of the household.
These are only a few of the many issues that the anthology throws up, whether related to management of funds and resources, convergence of the scheme with rural livelihoods or making the Act work in Left Wing Extremism affected districts.
The Mahatma Gandhi NREGA offers the promise of entitlement, empowerment, security and opportunity to millions of our marginalized citizens. It offers the promise of being a spearhead of rural transformation that spins off positive impulses in agriculture, community development, sustainable livelihood creation, water management and sanitation.
The Sameeksha has a lot of food for thought on where we stand six years since we launched this historic Scheme. I hope policy makers, public representatives, implementing agencies and civil society enable more such independent evaluations, which should become a normal part of our review and evaluation process.
I am hopeful that the new Operational Guidelines that will be issued by the Ministry of Rural Development will address some of the issues that have been brought out in the studies. In conclusion, I compliment Shri Jairam Ramesh and his colleagues in the Ministry, Dr Mihir Shah and many others including Dr. Ram Manohar Reddy who have put their heart and soul into the success of Mahatma Gandhi NREGA.”