Will trained workers in Panchayats improve the quality of NREGA? 3

Mihir Shah suggests training at least one worker per Panchayat so that NREGA can be more productive

There is always a dilemma in wage employment programmes on whether they should focus on creating employment or creating assets. So far most attention in NREGA has been on creating employment and the programme is rightly criticised for not producing useful and lasting assets. Among those I know, Mihir has focussed on quality issues more than anyone else, and he has excellent hands-on experience in creating watershed projects using labour intensive programmes.

Mihir has argued that creating lasting assets needs detailed planning, where we have to take into account topography, rainfall patterns, social issues and other information. A remarkable handbook produced by his team outlines this process for watershed projects. They point out that while this project takes time and thought, required skills can be taught to anyone using simple techniques. Following this broad approach he wrote in a recent article in The Hindu:

…strengthening the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) by providing them requisite technical and social human resource so that plans can be made and implemented genuinely bottom-up. Without a cadre of social mobilisers or lok sewaks (at least one in every village), it is difficult to convert NREGA into a truly demand-driven programme, where works are undertaken in response to the needs and aspirations of a fully aware citizenry.

I agree with his emphasis for creating a pool of workers who are trained in order to make NREGA productive and I think there should be at least one worker in each Panchayat who focuses mainly on implementing NREGA. But, as far as sound planning goes, I doubt if appointing trained people in Panchayats will be of help, for the following reasons:

(1) Panchayats are typically starved of workers and even if a person is appointed exclusively for NREGA, I fear that her efforts will go into other Panchayat work. (Perhaps this is based on my experience in Tamil Nadu where Panchayat presidents do not like NREGA for complex set of reasons).

(2) There is little commitment today for productivity of NREGA. This is true of government, activists, and sadly even farmers who can benefit from NREGA works. If we create capacity for planning sound works, I think we should vest with an agency that is committed to quality. This can be done by creating nodal agencies that work exclusively in creating a shelf of works for each Panchayat. This could be done in a campaign mode in the model of Total Literacy Movement and hopefully such a campaign will make it a public issue and will help in creating a commitment for productivity in the society at large.

(3) It would be easier to organise some resources like rainfall data, topographic materials, etc. at a nodal centre than to do it in each Panchayat. Further, it would be useful to have a set of people in each region who take a macro view of the situation.

I prefer a model of setting up a nodal team that is well equipped with personnel and information, who will work with Panchayats in coming up with plans that can be automatically approved by the administration. This process will take time and will still require a lot of resources – but it will be resources well spent that we will appreciate for a long time to come.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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3 thoughts on “Will trained workers in Panchayats improve the quality of NREGA?

  • Kris Dev

    The Panchayat Assistant is appointed by the Panchayat President. He assists the PP in all activities of the Panchayat.

    The Makkal Nala Panialar (a lady) is exclusively appointed to assist in NREGA work. The person is trained for a few days. But most activities are controlled by the PP and directed by the BDO.

    From my observations, very little genuine work gets done under NREGP. It is yet another dole scheme of the government extended thro’ a notional ‘work for food’ program.

    It is better to create genuine work opportunities by assigning land on lease thro’ cooperative horticulture / farming / tree cultivation than to do notional community development work, as no assets of long term value gets created and there is demand for payment without doing work. If machinery can be optimally used, why not? In some cases, it is reported, machinery is used overnight to complete pending works.

    More offline……

    • Vivek Post author

      Hi Kris. Thank you for your comment. I have been lamenting about the quality of works in NREGA and that is something we should work on collectively. That said, I am unwilling to say that it has been totally unproductive. In Northern TN where I spent most time last year, a lot of supply channels have been cleared and some lakes and ponds have been delisted remarkably. I hear the quality of work in Cuddalore was very good on the whole. In many other cases, people saw NREGA as a way of making money without doing much work and this situating was changing as I left the field last year (July 2008).

      I believe that we have to use technology optimally. In a labour intensive country like India I would prefer methods that use labour extensively and complement it with productivity enhancing technology. Poclains were made for labour scarce areas and they have a high social cost in rural India. Secondly, if the problem is that people take money and do not do the work, why would the use of machines be immune to this? After all, for the last few decades we have tried to manage our water resources primarily using machinery, is it not?


    tamilnadu panchayat working panchayat asst ant makkalnalappaniyalar.we are working panchayat works
    panchayt asst work
    he was appoiment by his panchayt president
    he was working all records of panchayt
    and nregs work
    any time he attend panchayat problems
    he was controled by president and bdo
    his qulification 12 th standard pass
    M.N.P work
    he was appoiment by his district collector
    he was working nregs
    his qulification 10 th pass/fail
    above the worker salary 2500-500

    but tamilnadu office helper(beun) salary was basic5200