By Dr Sapna Parashar, Shriram Kadiya, Sanket Vatavwala*
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), a flagship program of UPA Government was launched in February 2006 and was hailed by World Bank as a “stellar example of rural development”. United Nations Global Assessment Report praised the scheme and urged other nations to follow suit for rural development. The world’s biggest employment guarantee scheme has the primary aim to guarantee wage employment for 100 days in a financial year to rural masses for creating infrastructure or other rural amenities.
While MGNAREGA, like any other major scheme was also grappled in a few controversies such as the objections against the scheme for making agriculture less profitable, non-availability of workers, doling out subsidies and charges of corruption but there are many silver linings as well such as rural development through building infrastructure, effective decentralized planning and implementation, social empowerment of rural people – particularly women and growth revival.
A survey was carried out by us in five districts of North Gujarat. Under the leadership of Dr Parashar, 24 villages were visited. These villages were from districts from North Gujarat region such as Aravalli, Gandhinagar, Sabarkantha, Mehsana and Mahisagar. The objective of the survey was to map awareness of MGNREGA amongst the rural people of North Gujarat region. Insights were provided by 435 villagers, who filled up questionnaires and 24 Sarpanchas who were interviewed other than Mates and GRS (Gram Rozgar Sahayak).
The sample size was 420, which included 296 male and 124 female respondents, ranging from the age of as young as 19 years to as old as 75 years. While average annual income of the families was around Rs 30,000, average family size was comprised of 6 members.
It is noticeable that all 420 respondents were aware of MGNREGA program spearheaded by the Government and a whopping 98% of them wanted around twice of the number of days of guaranteed work through MGNREGA. Result of various responses is shown in the form of charts.
A whopping 98% of respondents had received Job Cards. While MGNREGA has been lauded for its efforts, corruption has been seen as one of the major hurdles in the success of the program. 26% of total respondents had to pay bribes for getting job cards, wherein as per the MGNREGA rule book the job card is mandatory and should be provided to applicant/s free of cost.
This might be an outcome of low level of awareness. The authorities must look into the matter more seriously to curb corrupt practices in MGNREGA. MGNREGA payment has to be done within 15 days but it has been reported that beneficiaries do not receive payment in 15 days. The survey indicated that 66% respondents received payment within 15 days. As per MGNREGA, if work is not allotted for 100 days, in that case beneficiaries of the scheme can demand unemployment allowance.
They can rightfully demand the allowances provided they are aware of it. A staggering 91% of the beneficiaries were not aware of such benefits offered to them through the scheme. Authorities must take steps to ensure high rate of awareness in the beneficiaries when they are not employed so as help them get benefits accorded to them by the Government. However, a bright side of the social progress was noticed in the survey, as wages were paid equally for men and women and caste-based discrimination was not seen rampantly.
As we move towards forming a progressive society we must completely eradicate discrimination based on gender or cast. Government needs to play a pivotal role and people need to co-operate with such measures. An elephantine majority of respondents receive payments through bank, while wafer slim numbers of people receive payment through cash or post office.
MGNREGA offered various benefits to rural people, some of them as cited by respondents were such as an opportunity to work in vicinity, work with family, work during lean patch, increase in income and opportunity to learn new works etc. The work they were majorly involved in were related to creating rural infrastructure such as digging and creating ponds, constructing roads, building check dams and tree plantation etc.
Regular advertising and communication dissemination would surely chalk out a path of high level of awareness, for if rural people would have high level of awareness they might not have ignorance about the basic facilities of MGNREGA such free job card, unemployment activities and work site facilities.
*Dr Sapna Parashar: assistant professor, Nirma University, Ahmedabad; Shriram Kadiya: doctoral scholar, Nirma University, Ahmedabad; Sanket Vatavwala: teaching and research assistant, Ahmedabad University, Ahmedabad