This article synthesizes some of the ideas that are floating around on changes to the structure of NREGA
In the last month there has been some discussion about the idea of NREGA-2 in the media. As far as I understand, there is no specific policy document that outlines NREGA-2. In the absence of an official policy note, an assortment of ideas are floating around on institutional changes over the original design of NREGA and I have presented them below:
- Allowing NREGA work to be done in private lands of small and marginal farmers
- Allowing private contractors to implement NREGA work
- Increasing the use of machinery in NREGA projects
- Permitting a new set of works that could be done under NREGA including, construction of buildings and sports stadiums
- Appointment of ombudsman in each district for grievance redressal
- Going beyond unskilled manual work by including "measurable" semi-skilled services like fishery and carpentry
- Convergence with projects of other ministries
- Appointing dedicated staff at the district level to educate people of their rights
Apart from these, Mihir Shah - a member of the planning commission - has written an article in The Hindu suggesting a series of reforms. These include: strengthening the Panchayati Raj system, focusing on increasing the productivity of agriculture and other livelihood systems, permitting the use of NREGA in private lands of small and marginal farmers, strengthening social audits, creative use of information technology, reforming the Schedule of Rates and creating greater space for civil society participation in NREGA. An article by Narayan Lakshman in The Hindu refers to a suggestion by Professor MS Swaminathan to include more technical inputs, perhaps by creating a consortium of experts.
Lack of transparency
These debates have been initiated in the context of the appointment of a new Minister for Rural Development, Mr C P Joshi. The renewed public debate on improving NREGA is to be totally welcomed. What is regrettable is that this debate is happening with little or no concrete information from the government on its plans. In fact, some of the suggestions have already materialised into legal changes with absolutely no public discussion despite the fact that NREGA continues to be one of the closely monitored programmes in the country. This approach by the new government and its new minister can have serious consequences especially because some of these changes being proposed could have far-reaching consequences for the implementation of NREGA.
I feel that some suggestions such as extending the use of NREGA to private lands of small and marginal farmers could have a positive impact, while other ideas such as engaging labour displacing machinery, constructing buildings and private contractors could completely destroy it. Some of these ideas were kick-started in a meeting grandly labelled as, "NREGA: A step towards Governance Reform, Transparency and Accountability", but there is no semblance of transparency and I do not see how any of these ideas are going to improve governance are accountability.
I hope to track new proposals as they come to see how this vague idea of NREGA-II is going to shape up. I will periodically update this page as the debate about NREGA-II widens, and as we learn more about the plans of the government.
Articles on NREGA-2
The following are some articles on the topic that I have bookmarked, and these will be updated periodically.