In NREGA reforms, prioritise the worker and her dues

Source– The post is based on the article “In NREGA reforms, prioritise the worker and her dues” published in The Hindu on 30th January 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- Government policies and interventions

Relevance– Schemes for employment generation

News– The article explains the issues with MGNREGA. It suggests the reforms needed for the scheme.

What are the issues with the MGNREGA scheme?

The majority of reforms related to MGNREGA have focused on centralisation such as the electronic fund management system, geo-tagging of assets and a national mobile monitoring system (NMMS). They have disrupted implementation.

Almost 3,000 women NREGA workers in Muzaffarpur district are protesting against the NMMS application after the app failed to capture their attendance.

The process of wage payments created by the central government has become even more complex. For instance, seven or more functionaries have to sign off before payment due to a worker can be approved.

There are slow and unpredictable releases of funds by the central government.It is one of the fundamental reasons for State governments inability to ensure the full potential of NREGA. As of today, ₹18,191 crore in liabilities is due to 24 States.

Worksites are not opened on time, and the work provided does not match demand.

What reforms are needed for MGNREGA?

Payment reforms– There is a need to address delays in wage payments to restore the faith of workers in the programme. In 2016, the Supreme Court of India directed the government to ensure that wages were paid on time.

The Ministry of Rural Development must simplify the payment process and has to be transparent about pending wage payments.

Implementation reforms– There is a need to strengthen implementation capacities where expenditure is low instead of curbing expenditure where employment generation is high. As per Economic Survey of 2016, states which are spending more are implementing the programme better because they have better capacities

For NREGA, reforms cannot be based on ‘targeting’ better. There has to be a focus on exclusion and not inclusion errors. Exclusion must be identified at the household level.

Panchayats, blocks and districts where employment of SCs and ST families is lower than their proportion in the population must be identified. Similarly, panchayats where the average wage being paid is lower than the notified wage rate must be identified as well.

The online Management Information System of NREGA can be used to find the shortcomings.

There is a need to run the programme like a demand-based law, and not a scheme.

Consultative process-The discussions on any proposed reforms should be made participatory. State governments have played a pivotal role in the successes and failures of NREGA.

Any proposed reforms must be tabled in State assemblies in addition to Parliament. Civil society organisations, worker unions and representatives of self-help groups should be brought into the discussion.

Other reforms– It is time the Government of India should map the impact of each of its reforms on access to NREGA, particularly in poorer States.

The central government must be held accountable for the denial of entitlements to NREGA workers as a result of top down reforms.

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