Sreelatha Menon & Prasad Nichenametla
New Delhi February 03, 2007
A year after the launch of the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) Programme, two sets of figures that it throws up are arresting.
First, 33.4 million job cards have been issued in the 200 districts where the programme has been operational. Those districts have 54 million rural households.
The numbers say that 60 per cent of all rural households in these districts have registered for hard manual labour, in return for Rs 50 a day.
Since only 22 per cent (or 26 per cent, depending on the figure you choose) of all households are officially poor, a 60 per cent participation rate suggests either a level of deprivation in the countryside that no one has suspected exists, or a gigantic boondoggle under which fake muster rolls get filled up.
The second arresting figure is the number of mandays of work generated during the year: 446 million.
Assuming that this was evenly spread out among the 33.4 million who have registered under the programme, each job card holder got less than 14 days of work during the year.
But that calculation would have to be adjusted with the fact that all 33.4 million job cards were not issued on the first day of the programme. If they were issued in an even pattern through the year, the average job card holder would have got 14 days of work over six months— compared with the 100 days in a year promised under the programme.
The Rs 700 that would have been earned by each job card holder (and only one card is allowed per family) in the year would serve at best as supplementary income for an average family of five; it is not enough to bring poor people above the poverty line — one of the claims made on behalf of the programme.
At gram panchayat Baldevmal, part of the Junagarh block in Orissa's Kalahandi district, the scene is much worse than even what these national averages suggest.
In all, 350 job cards have been given out so far. Panchayat secretary Bhabograhi Meher's figure for mandays of work created is 450. That amounts to barely one day and a bit per job card holder in the entire year.
At Bandhpari panchayat of Lanjigarh block, in the very Kalahandi district, 33-year-old Nurpa Goud got seven days of work in June. This is all that is mentioned on his card.
He says he worked more days, but they have not been mentioned on the card. He is now waiting for more work, as the state government has recently increased the minimum wage under the programme.
There are also places like Ranmal gram panchayat in Kalahandi, where no cards have been given out so far. The state-wide total is 2.5 million cards and 45 million mandays of work — or an average of 18 days per card.
That is slightly better than the national figure of 14 days, and marginally better than Uttar Pradesh's total (54 million mandays for 3.2 million job card holders in 22 districts, making for 16 mandays per card), but nowhere near the target of 100 mandays per card.
If Nurpa Goud's account is true, more work is being done, but people are not being paid for it.
The vital statistical link showing mandays generated per job card is mostly missing in official records.
When mentioned, it often does not reflect the truth, says Manoj Rai of Participatory Research in Asia (Pria), a resource and advocacy group on grassroots development. The states do have data on the number of mandays, but they do not post it on their websites, says Rai.
In response to questions, central ministry officials in New Delhi say they are planning to revamp the information system.
RURAL REPORT CARD
Funds released: Rs 6,714.2 crore
Total 'works' taken up: 5.23 lakh
Total rural households: 54 million