02Jul2014

How Can We Make MGNREGA Work?

By Bhawna Mangla, Richa Saxena and Mansha Sehgal

Mansha and Bhawna study Economics at TERI University and Richa has recently earned M.Sc.in Anthropology from Amity University. They interned at Sehgal Foundation’s Rural Research Center this summer.

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The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) aims at enhancing the livelihood security of rural households. It guarantees hundred days of wage employment in a year for a rural household whose adult members are willing to do unskilled manual work. However, over a period of time, corruption cases have been reported frequently. Even with the presence of social audit guidelines, village functionaries were found to have tweaked rules, created ghost workers, and denied benefits to rural households.

Such corrupt practices with MGNREGA become evident when we look at wide gap between official statistics and the ground realities in Mewat District in Haryana. In 2012, Sehgal Foundation’s Rural Research Centre (RRC) conducted a survey of 473 MGNREGA eligible households in 30 villages in Mewat. While the statistics by the Ministry of Rural Development revealed that 99% of households who registered got their job cards issued (34,992 households registered; 34,711 job card issued),[1] RRC’s survey found a starkly different picture. In the survey, only 36 % of the eligible households got their job cards issued. Moreover, among those to whom job cards were issued, only 2% had their cards with them. This indicates that sarpanches or panchayat members issued job cards to beneficiaries but never distributed the cards to their rightful owners.

The case of four villages, where work under MNREGA scheme has been carried out in the last two years, reveals that the records of work and wage payments were not maintained in a transparent manner. Although MGNREGA guidelines highlight the pivotal role of gram sabha in the planning of projects, these guidelines were not followed. On the contrary, sarparnches appeared to have made decisions according to their will. Villagers also reported that sarpanches and their allies used machines to substitute labor work at night and pocketed the MGNREGA wages. It was also found that the wage compensation had been inadequate. There is high possibility that such situations continue unless villagers become aware of their entitlements under MGNREGA and sarpanches learn how to maintain muster rolls in a transparent manner.

Most recently, the Ministry of Rural Development introduced a new monitoring mechanism whereby Chartered Accountant conducts audit in order to stop the pilferage of money. However, will this make the situation better—Is introducing a new monitoring mechanism good enough for tackling this problem? India has history of generating committees, and creating institutions alone will not work unless people are informed and stand up for their own rights. Rather, the focus should be on empowering rural communities and making them more aware of MGNREGA.

Sehgal Foundation has been creating awareness among people of their rights and entitlements guaranteed by MGNREGA and other government schemes. IRRAD organizes legal literacy camps and trainings in order to educate villagers. At these training sessions, IRRAD staff inform participants of Right to Information Act so that villagers may be empowered to fight against corruption. It also assists with panchayats in formulating MGNREGA plans and submitting them to Program Officer at block level and helps gram sabhas plan MGNREGA projects.

On June 27, 2012, IRRAD facilitated a consultation on MGNREGA in which villagers, government officials, sarpanchs and Sh. Raghavendra Rao, IAS officer (Financial Commissioner & Principal Secretary to Govt. of Haryana) came together to discuss the best practices, problems and recommendations to reform and strengthen the MGNREGA implementation in Haryana. Some of the recommendations proposed for the Rural Development Department, Haryana includes making special provision for households where job cards are in the name of women to enable women to participate actively in MGNREGA and benefit from it; creating a district level task force under the guidance of district commissioner to discuss and streamline implementation of MGNREGA in the district; making MGNREGA complaint redressal system effective and responsive; and carrying out special awareness campaigns in villages to generate awareness about MGNREGA. (For report on this MGNREGA consultation, see http://www.smsfoundation.org/announcement.htm) We are hoping that this consultation will help participants in improving their livelihood through MGNREGA.

[1] Ministry of Rural Development. http://164.100.112.66/netnrega/homedist.aspx?state_name=HARYANA&district_name=MEWAT&District_Code=1219&State_Code=12