In an exclusive interview with Governance Now's Shivani Chaturvedi, Union Minister for Rural Development Dr C P Joshi talks about his efforts to make the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) more effective. Strangely, he is persisting with a system that makes sarpanchs both the judge and the jury. The sarpanchs are the ones who get the NREGA projects executed in the first place and yet, they are the ones who alone can carry out social audit. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: What steps are being taken to improve rural economy so that migration from villages to cities stops?
Ans: The schemes are there to eliminate poverty. We have Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) which tries to bring the assisted poor families (swarozgaries) above the poverty line by ensuring appreciable sustained level of income over a period of time. Just a small part of the economy is dealt with by my department.
Q: Even the NREG scheme aims at reducing flow of people from rural to urban areas. How far has this been achieved?
Ans:Feedback is different from different states. Empirically, it has reduced migration as under the scheme people are getting work at their own place. But inference can best be drawn through scientific methods.
Delay in wage payment to beneficiaries is defeating the purpose of NREGS. Are there any plans to strengthen the payment system?
There will be business correspondents to pay wages under NREGS. The correspondents will work as bank agents and make payment on the basis of data recorded in specially designed machine that works on biometric technology. Entire details about the beneficiaries will be recorded in this handy machine. This initiative is expected to help improve wage payment system.
Q: NREGS is primarily a programme aimed at creating public assets that would be useful for the society at large. The principle was relaxed by allowing projects in private lands of selected marginalised communities including SCs and STs. Now this is being extended by permitting works in private lands owned by small and marginal farmers who are not SCs and STs. Why?
Ans:This provision was already there. Among the BPL families there are large numbers of marginal farmers. Because BPL selection was always questionable we have just put an umbrella under which all will be covered.
Q: NREGS paid rich dividend to the UPA in the last general election. Yet, there are restrictions on its social audit by independent agencies/NGOs and only gram sabhas are allowed to do it. Why so?
Ans: Social audit is to be conducted only by sarpanchas. There is no provision for NGOs to carry out social audit except in Andra Pradesh where they have directorate of social audit.
Q: Panchayati Raj institutions intend to play an important role in planning and executing NREGS. What is being done to ensure more flexibility at Panchayat level?
Ans:There is lack of capacity at the Panchayat level. They can identify the activities but cannot do the technical work. For that they can employ technical persons like junior engineers as per the provision in the Act. At some places this is being done.
Q: Is there any effective grievance redressal system for beneficiaries of NREGS?
Ans: Yes, appointment of ombudsman has been done to redress grievances related to NREGS. This system has been introduced in 2009-10 and each state has been asked to do so. There are 619 districts where NREGS has been implemented. East district will have one ombudsman. There is a committee comprising state chief secretary, state rural development secretary, official nominated by the Government of India and civil society persons nominated by the government who will monitor the system. In addition to this, MPs have been asked to monitor rural development schemes in the districts. The state governments are required to have their own redressal system too. And the biggest tool is the Right to Information Act (RTI).
Q: Are there any plans to create projects exclusively for disabled?
Ans: In some states initiatives have been taken to bring such projects. We are asking other states to work in this direction.