The Gap between MGNREGA’s Intent and Ground Realities

By Anjali Godyal – Group Leader, Projects

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) came into effect in 2006. It became the basis of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS)—one of the largest rights-based social protection schemes in the world. MGNREGS aims at enhancing and securing the livelihoods of rural people by guaranteeing a hundred days of wage employment annually to each rural household. It is a demand-driven, bottom-up and people-centered program, and is administered by the Ministry of Rural Development.

MGNREGS is the first national-level program and its administration utilizes gram panchayats (village councils) and gram sabhas (village bodies comprised of every voting villager). These groups are critical to the success of the program. Under MGNREGS, gram panchayats have three broadly categorized responsibilities: planning, implementation and monitoring at the village level. Specifically, they need to plan the work to be conducted in the village, issue job cards, allocate employment, and execute 50 per cent of the work. All these activities require consultations with the gram sabha. With this high degree of involvement and delegation of authority to gram panchayats, MGNREGS acknowledges gram panchayats’ responsibility for development and governance. However, in order to fulfill those responsibilities, gram panchayats require a higher degree of organizational and management capabilities.

For each of three areas of responsibilities, I will discuss the gap between what MGNREGS intends to accomplish through village-level institutions and the reality on the ground.

Planning: Gram panchayats have a pivotal role in the planning of projects under MGNREGS. First, they have to prepare a development plan comprising the projects recommended by the gram sabha. Once the plans are finalized, gram panchayats have to submit them to block-level officials who can either accept the plans or request for revision.

In practice, this works quite differently. The gram sabhas do not hold meetings to recommend plans; the block-level officials are either not aware about the process or feign ignorance. The general perception about MGNREGS in the villages in Mewat District is that the projects under MGNREGS are distributed to gram panchayats by the district administration.

Sehgal Foundation facilitated the preparation of MGNREGS plans in about 20 gram panchayats in Mewat, following the guidelines proposed in MGNREGS. However, none of our proposed plans were found in the “Work Projection” report for 2012-13 in the official MGNREGA website. This reaffirms that there is a lack of knowledge about planning procedures both at the district and block levels. cbc-blog-pic

Implementation: MGNREGS mandates that the gram panchayat must carry out a minimum of 50 percent of the budgeted work. First, gram panchayats have to maintain a proper record of all MGNREGS works implemented. They have to maintain 9 specific types of records, including a muster roll receipt register, job card application register and employment register.

The wide scope of work to be conducted and the detailed paperwork involved in the implementation of MGNREGS requires advanced administrative and managerial skills. Unfortunately, Sehgal Foundation has observed that the gram panchayats in Mewat lack of these skills. Therefore, we provide capacity building to selected gram panchayats so that they can properly manage and supervise MGNREGS work in their villages.

During our work with the gram panchayats, we discovered that some were not aware that they needed to issue separate muster rolls for each project before the work starts. Without the necessary knowledge, technical know-how and adequate skills, the gram panchayats became dependent on government officials that may eventually control the program. Additionally, there is also a concerning lack of quality control for projects implemented under MGNREGS due to a limited number of technical teams and/or engineers.

Monitoring: Transparency and accountability are integral to MGNREGS. The scheme mandates that the gram sabha should monitor all the work at the village level as well as the provision of employment to every villager that asks for it. Monitoring mechanisms like the formation of Vigilance and Monitoring Committee (VMC) and Social Audits are instituted in the scheme to promote transparency, participation, consultation and consent, accountability and redressal. In this way, the scheme institutionalizes public vigilance—an essential component of democracy.

However, much needs to be done to achieve the level of public vigilance necessitated by the scheme. In Mewat, social audits, if conducted, are not done in a proper manner. VMCs are rarely formed. In the absence of public vigilance, it is no surprise that the official MGNREGS website in the “Social Audit Report” section for Mewat mentions that not a single grievance was submitted or any actions taken (www.nrega.nic.in). In the field, however, complaints about the delays in payment and/or non-payment are ubiquitous.

In Mewat, its gram panchayats do not assume the roles of planners, decision makers or supervisors in the MGNREGS implementation process. Instead, the district administrators do most of the work. To make things worse, the district administration lacks the necessary human resources to sufficiently support panchayats so that the scheme is managed efficiently. There are not enough panchayat secretaries, accountants, computer operators, junior engineers and sub-divisional officers at the district level to provide technical support to panchayats. At times, even the positions of Block Development and Panchayat Officer (BDPO) are vacant. Out of 355 panchayats in Mewat, only 18 panchayats have secretaries and there are only 6 junior engineers. There are no separate computer operators for MGNREGS; and the post of BDPO is vacant in 2 out of 5 blocks of Mewat.

Much development needs to occur in the Block Development offices, the gram panchayats and the gram sabhas in order for MGNREGS to be more effective.