Dr NK Sinha is the Director of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) programme under the Ministry of Rural Development. In an interview at Krishi Bhawan, New Delhi, he gives us an insight into what the NREGA is really about.
VP: What is the NREGA?
Dr. Sinha: The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is a programme formulated to generate employment in the rural areas. It came into existence in the year 2005.
VP: How is it different from the previous Employment Guarantee Schemes (EGS’s)?
Dr. Sinha: NREGA marks a paradigm shift from all precedent wage employment programmes. The main points of distinction between the two are:
a) It provides a statutory guarantee of wage employment.
b) It provides a rights based framework for wage employment. Employment is dependent upon the worker exercising the choice to apply for registration, obtain a Job Card and seek employment for the time and duration that the worker wants.
c) There is a 15 day time limit for fulfilling the legal guarantee of providing employment and increased transparency.
d) Unlike the earlier wage employment programmes that were allocation based, NREGA is demand driven. This provides another critical incentive to states to leverage the Act to meet the employment needs of the poor.
VP: Can you tell us the phases in which the NREGA has been implemented across the country?
Dr. Sinha: The Act was notified in 200 districts in the first phase in 2006 and then extended to an additional 130 districts in the financial year 2007-08. The remaining districts have been notified under the NREGA with effect from April 1, 2008. Thus, it covers the entire country with the exception of districts that have a 100% urban population.
VP: The focus of the NREGA is providing employment through infrastructure building. What are the public works which come under the purview of the Act?
Dr. Sinha: The works are of various kinds and include water conservation and harvesting, micro and macro irrigation works, renovation of traditional water bodies, building of roads, drainage and land development.
VP: What is the time period for which employment is provided?
Dr. Sinha: Employment is provided for at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
VP: How are the wages fixed?
Dr. Sinha: Wages are paid according to the Minimum Wages Act 1948 for agricultural labourers in the state, unless the Centre notifies a wage rate which will not be less than Rs 60 per day. Workers are paid according to piece rate or daily rate. Disbursement of wages is done on a weekly basis and is to be done within a fortnight.
VP: Can you ennumerate a few of the success stories under the scheme?
Dr. Sinha: 4.5 crore households have one working member under this scheme in the year 2007-08. The number of person days of employment is 216.1 crore, out of which 103.42 crore (47.86%) are women. The states in which successful implementation has taken place are Rajasthan, Haryana and Chhatisgarh, where asset creation has been optimum.
VP: What are the problem areas in this scheme and how do you think these can be countered?
Dr. Sinha: The main problem with the NREGA lies in its implementation. Corruption and red tapism is common in districts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Also, there is the need to develop a bottom top approach so as to improve the efficacy and lead to more active interaction between the villagers and the Panchayats, which could then get back to the Government with their problems.
[Image courtesy: http://cg.nic.in/nrega/nrega.bmp]