15November2018

Andaman Chronicle

The Daily Diary of the Islands

NREGA- Mission Impossible

National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (NREGA) has been one of the most important legislations in recent times. It has immense potential for poverty alleviation and upliftment of the rural poor. However, seeing the implementation of NREGA in A&N Islands from 1st April 2008 shows that the ground reality is distant from its ambitious mandate.
 
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) provides a legal guarantee of 100 days of labour in a financial year to adult members of rural households registered under it.  
 
Labour can be made available through the NREGA under various categories such as natural resource management, drought proofing, flood control, water harvesting and conservation, afforestation and tree planting, horticulture activities and rural connectivity. In reality however, the labour available through the NREGA is almost solely limited to road laying and other manual construction labour owing to limited interpretation and short sighted applications of provisions under the Act.  
 
The population for whom the NREGA offers maximum opportunities, is made up largely of the farming community and the rural poor. In the time since NREGA came into existence, the initial hope it held out has given way to disillusion and dissatisfaction among the people for whom it was meant. It is also under a cloud of large scale mismanagement and faulty implementation by the higher authorities. Can the NREGA be redeemed and made more useful for rural poor to enhance their livelihood activities?
 
Looking at the implementation in the islands it can be clearly seen that not a single household will get 100 days guaranteed employment within the current financial year. Without insufficient funds and lack of proper state rural employment guarantee scheme the A&N Administration jumped into implementing this scheme in the Islands. States/ UT are to formulate it’s own state rural employment guarantee scheme based on the local conditions and needs. The one made here is just a copy of some distant state not similar to us in a lot of ways. There is no rural schedule of rates in place to measure the output of the work executed even after 9 months of it’s implementation. 
 
A battery of civil servants and other officials have been designated with designations for implementing NREGA like State Employment Guarantee Commissioner (Secretary RD), State Nodal officer (Director RD&LSG), District Programme coordinators (Deputy Commissioners), Additional District Programme coordinators (Assistant Commissioners), Assistant District Programme coordinators (Tehsildars), Senior Programme officers (BDO’s) apart from a bunch of contract staff at lower end. Inspite of it all the only progress shown is a rat race and one upmanship among the districts to hog the paper headlines with conflicting interpretations of the law. 
 
In N&M Andaman district (which leads the race in the no of panchayats where the scheme is implemented) in a programme which is inaugurated by the Adhyaksha it is admitted that job cards are issued preferentially only to 30 households where as it has to be issued to all the house holds willing to work under NREGA and in the event of not providing employment within 15 days of receiving work applications unemployment allowances is to be provided mandatory by the State. This is gross misinterpretation of the Act. 
 
In Nicobar district which won the race as the first district to start the work have problems of staff being made sick to the extent that every few days an Advertisement is placed to appoint new Programme officers etc. The tribals don’t care much about the scheme and works not contained in the guidelines are executed to keep the scheme running. This is the result of jumping the gun.
 
South Andaman District is the laggard of the pack with work implemented in a handful of panchayats. As it is houses the seat of the Administration the bosses out here are too busy with their own pre- occupations to care for the rural poor. They are at logger heads with the Zilla Parishad which is making matters worse for the poor. Why would the Zilla Parishad technically sanction the works for the poor without their palms being greased as is customary when it’s the contractors (who incidentally are not welcome in NREGA) The biggest surprise is that work inaugurated by the Administrator in S. Andaman has come to a halt within a week of it’s commencement when it still has more than 99% work left in the site to be executed. The workers of the site are still not paid their wages inspite of more than a month where as it is mandatory to pay the wages within 14 days.
 
The bosses in implementation of NREGA have to wake up and shed their insensitivity towards the poor masses. As NREGA has to go hand in hand with land mark legislation- Right to information Act, it is not long before these bosses would end up on the wrong side of a PIL. Inspite of the Lt. Governor being the head of the State Employment Guarantee Council which has a bunch of top level civil servants and public representatives and is the Apex body for implementation of the scheme, nothing much has happened to make the scheme more accessible to the rural masses, which is their right bound by law. Maybe the Administrator is not aware of the pulse of the masses and is going by the word of mouth of his officers who have made a mess of things and are camouflaging their lethargy and insensitivity.
 
Involvement and sensitization of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) must also be done as it is the main implementing agency at the grassroot level. A local NGO “Unnati” was entrusted this task which incidentally made a mess in interpretation of the provision contained in the Act. NREGS must also be linked with other programmes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDM), Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme (ARWSP), Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), National AIDS Control Project (NACP), Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), and other social security programmes for better utilization of resources and checking the migration-related problems. Demand and supply has to match and this can be done only when we facilitate decentralized planning at the grass root level and properly implement it. NREGS should supplement the livelihood of rural poor and not just be an alternate employment opportunity.
 
This is election year and come March 31st 2009 when NREGA would have certainly fared way below even the national average of 25 days of employment provided to job seekers, it’ll be show time for most of the big wigs of the Administration in the Islands as the common man will be the lord then. A small time politician can cause mayhem to these cataracted lal batti sahibs who don’t see the plight of the poor. Atleast accountability will be called for and what better than to have legal rights under NREGA, the only silver lining in the scheme.