Mahathma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), which served as a vote spinner for the UPA government and helped bounce back to power in 2009, continues to rule the roost as a a political game-changer in the rural heartland of India. The ruling BJP government at the Centre should finetune the MGNREGS scheme into a highly productive social, civilian engineering and nation-building force. The miracles it worked in the backward, drought-prone Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, if replicated in North India’s rural, poverty-stricken heartland, can tackle poverty and emerge as a community-building national workforce and engage in laying rural roads, creation of community assets, desiltation of water bodies, tree plantation and their maintenance and a host of works that contribute to village development at the bottom level.
MGNREGS, under which rural wage laborers have emerged as a large nation-building workforce, is contributing to creation of social and public assets at the village level. District Water Management Agency (DWMA), which is working under the leadership of District Collector Veera Pandian is the moving force behind the creation of public assets and the success of the MGNREGS movement in the district.
In 2016-17 financial year, an amount of Rs. 54,933 lakh had been spent on laying 436-km roads, undertaking of 110,000 farm ponds digging, 25,000 individual household latrines, 881 Aanganwadi buildings, 117 Gram Panchayath buildings, 24 Shree Shakti bhavans, planting 1 crore seedlings as part of social forestry, maintenance of plantations in 30,110 acres, 500 water troughs for cattle, promotion of mulberry plantations in 1000 acres and in execution of 31 solid waste management projects in rural areas. An amount of Rs. 32,960.15 lakh was spent on payment of wages for labourers, and Rs. 21,973.43 lakh on materiel component for execution of works relating to creation of assets.
MGNREGS, which was once frowned upon as a lazy workforce during the days of its inception for its poor productivity, has over the years emerged as a productive workforce realising the twin objectives of creation of work for 100 days for rural poor and also for using the workforce for creation of social and public assets. Today, the workforce is being used to cover the entire gamut of public and social works execution including laying of roads, construction of government and community buildings, desilting of village tanks, digging of farm ponds, trenches, soak pits, tree plantation and maintenance and just anything on earth that has to do with social and community development.
DWMA Project Director A. Nagabhushanam told this reporter that the wage rate being paid to men and women workers include Rs. 194 per day apart from other allowances being paid, which include Rs. 19 distance allowance, Rs. 3 mate allowance, Rs. 5 drinking water allowance, Rs. 6.88 butter milk, Rs. 20 distance allowance for disabled, Rs. 10 shade allowance, Rs. 5 for basket, Rs. 10 for crow bar and Rs. 10 for PLM allowance.
The latest dimension to MGNREGS is creation of hundreds of crores worth public assets, which is turning the scheme all the more beautiful.
District Collector Veera Pandian’s resolve to achieve the impossible feat of transforming MGNREGS workforce into a community and nation-building workforce and the commitment of DWMA Project Director Arunakula Nagabhushanam in constant monitoring of the project through his continuous field visits and motivating his subordinate staff has brought in sea change in the very character of the scheme, which was once taken very lightly by the wage labourers.
British Researcher impressed with MGNREGS
Aled Fisher, a British national from Wales, England, is a research scholar from the University of Oslo, Norway, who was fascinated with the Indian government’s MGNREGS, has chosen Anantapur district to study the programme and found out how it is financially empowering the rural populace in a district where poverty and drought are ruling the roost. He is studying how the rural folk are battling with poverty, armed with 150 days of guaranteed work in a year.
Chatting with this reporter, Alex Fisher said that he had been working with several NGOs on issues like climatic change and ecology and on combating drought. “NREGS is an interesting programme and it impressed me. I have spoken to hundreds of village folk in Bukkapatnam and other places and found the NREGS programme to be of social security in nature for people and infrastructure building is an important component of the scheme. I can say NREGS programme has multiple effects on many fronts including natural resources management, infrastructure development and water resources conservation. Life is amazing in villages. People are friendly and welcoming. People are resilient despite crop failure and drought staring at their faces, because of the support given by the NREGS to them”, observed Aled Fisher while sharing his observations on the programme. He said that there were reservations among the farmers on digging farm ponds because of losing some land for digging farm ponds. However, many farmers after seeing the positive results of the recharging of ground water by farm ponds have changed their mindset. The law of life is one has to lose something in order to gain another thing. Creation of water harvesting and ground re-charging assets, infrastructure building like laying of roads, tree plantation, building community assets, de-silting of community water tanks and greening of environment are the by-products of the massive NREGS programme, which is implemented country wide. The ramification of the scheme is massive and huge in terms of work generation and permanent infrastructure building.
Aled, who arrived in the district in 2016 August, is living in the villages, enjoying his interaction with the rural folk and studying the impact of NREGS on the rural economy. NREGS is the largest organised rural workforce building their lives and families and the community through the 200 admissible works identified as part of infrastructure building. Every day, Aled interacts with people and DWMA officials at the bottom level to report to the University of Oslo the economic ramifications of the social security government intervention in India.
Anantapur stands second after Visakhapatnam on payment of wages for the MGNREGS labourers, including materiel component, which is Rs. 545.64 crore as on March 31, 2017. While Visakhapatnam gained the status by spending 100 crore more and engaging labourers in multiple works, the district spent the staggering amount on only digging of more than 80,000 farm ponds, the pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, aimed at water conservation and recharging of ground water levels, especially in drought-infested districts. Also 74,000 families completed 100 days of work in the 2017-18 fiscal. In the last three days of the end of the financial year alone, wages worth Rs. 66 lakh had been paid to the labourers. About 80,000 farm ponds’ digging has been completed and another 30,000, which are in various stages of completion, will be finished by June 2017.
District Collector Veera Pandian told this reporter that the national feat of digging 1.10 lakh farm ponds will remain in history a major achievement, not only in terms of numbers but also in creating permanant water conservation infrastructure for the people of the district. These will remain as the Central government’s gift to farmers and for posterity.
Nation-wide MGNREGS was once viewed by wage labourers as a money spinner. It was merely muster based with workers hardly doing anything fruitful and that too for a couple of hours. There was wide criticism that the scheme had made rural agriculture labourers lazy. This picture has changed after the Narendra Modi government redefined the scheme, making it more productive and even increasing the number of employment guarantee days to 150 from 100 days. MG NREGS workers are working for 6-7 hours a day and the important element of the scheme is community development. Until recently, MGNREGS workers indulged in futile exercise and unproductive work like digging a pit and closing the pit just for record’s sake that some work has been carried out. The scheme experienced a metamorphosis of doing highly productive work after the NDA government stormed to power in the country.
Out of 7.86 lakh wage labourers holding job cards, 5.27 lakh job card-holders actively participated in community development works. The heartening aspect of the project is involvement of 2.60 lakh women workers in the current year in Anantapur district. The district stands today as number two in wage payment to labourers and first in the country in digging of the largest number of farm ponds in the country.
By DV Indira from Anantpur