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Prioritizing the Worker and their Dues in NREGA Reforms

Context

  • The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has undergone reforms before, but they are frequently enacted with a zeal that exceeds the capacity for adaptation.
    • Because of weaker administrative capacity, poorer States struggle more to adapt than those that are better off.
    • Every time the administrative system recovers from a reform movement, it is hit by another.

Relevance:

GS Paper-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Mains Question

State governments have played a pivotal role in the successes and failures of NREGA, and any proposed reforms must be tabled in State assemblies in addition to Parliament. Discuss (250 Words)


Key Points:

  • A committee to suggest reforms has been formed instead of paying attention to the long-standing demands of workers and their collectives;
  • NREGA is underperforming because its most fundamental design principles have been forgotten or purposefully ignored;
  • The most recent concern of the central government is over the program’s “regressive” spending pattern, where poorer States spend less NREGA funds than better-off ones.

MGNREGA

  • MGNREGA is one of the biggest work guarantee programmes in the world. It stands for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
  • The scheme’s main goal is to provide 100 days of guaranteed employment each fiscal year to any adult member of a rural household who is willing to perform unskilled manual labour for the public good.

The following are the main characteristics of the programme:

  • The right to work is a legal one;
  • Wages must be paid in accordance with the statutory minimum wages set by the States.
  • A legally supported, demand-driven guarantee that any adult living in a rural area will find employment within 15 days, or else a “unemployment allowance,” should be provided.
  • The act encourages decentralisation and gives the PRI a big part in planning and carrying it out.
  • Social audits of MGNREGA projects are required, which promotes transparency and accountability.
  • The Gram Sabha is the main venue where wage-seekers can speak up and make demands.
  • The Gram Sabha and the Gram Panchayat approve the list of projects funded by MGNREGA and establish their order of priority.

The following are problems with MGNREGA:

  • A lack of funding messes up the employment demand-supply cycle. Lack of resources inhibits the demand for work and the post-covid rural economic recovery.
  • Inefficiencies and an unholy alliance between PRI and officials make it difficult to implement a scheme correctly, such as when job cards are duplicated.
  • The phenomenon of low quality and high inefficiency in work, which has a negative impact on rural economy asset creation.
  • Long before NREGA was implemented, corrupt practises such as improper pay distribution to employees, the production of fake bills, payment delays, and fund scamming were practised there, which resulted in the program’s epic failure and government criticism.
  • Insufficient support: Offering just 100 days of employment is insufficient given that the unemployment rate has reached a 45-year high of 6%.
  • Gram panchayats are unable to effectively and efficiently implement this act due to their limited autonomy, which plays an ineffective role in the PRI.

Measures Required to Address the Problems

  1. Address wage payment delays
    1. To address wage payment delays in order to regain the workers’ trust in the programme.
    2. The Supreme Court of India ordered the government to make sure that wages were paid on time in 2016, describing the practise of making employees wait for pay for months as “forced labour.”
    3. In order to eliminate bottlenecks, the Ministry of Rural Development must streamline the payment process and be open about unpaid wages in stages one and two.
  2. Boosting Capabilities for Implementation
    1. To increase implementation capabilities where spending is minimal rather than reducing spending where employment generation is substantial.
    2. States that spend more money on the programme are doing a better job of implementing it because they have better capacities, according to a number of studies, including the government’s own Economic Survey from 2016.
    3. Reforms cannot be based on “targeting” more effectively for a social security programme that is universal and demand-based like NREGA.
    4. The emphasis must be on exclusion rather than “errors” in inclusion.
  3. Implement software like a demand-based law
    1. To implement the programme as a demand-based law rather than a scheme. One of the main causes of State governments’ inability to guarantee the full potential of NREGA is the central government’s sporadic and unpredictable fund releases.
    2. As of right now, 24 States are owed 18.191 crore in liabilities.
    3. States with poor performance typically discourage and frequently reject the demand for work due to insufficient funding.
  4. Hold conversations about any proposed reforms. Participatory:
    1. Discussions about any proposed reforms need to be participatory. o The NREGA was created in response to the demands of a strong people’s movement in India, and one of its main pillars has been its ground-breaking provisions for public accountability.
    2. Since state governments have had a significant impact on the NREGA’s successes and failures, any proposed reforms must be discussed with representatives from civil society organisations, labour unions, and self-help groups in addition to being presented to State assemblies and Parliament.
  5. Map the Impact of Each of its “Reforms”: It is time for the Indian government to make a sincere effort to map the effects of each of its “reforms” on NREGA spending and access, especially in States with lower incomes.

Conclusion:

Instead of concentrating solely on administrative and fiscal efficacy, NREGA reforms must prioritise providing workers with easy and dignified access to entitlements.

 


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