The Indian government has come out with a comprehensive review of the available reports and papers on MGNREGA, the largest public works program in the world. Below are excerpts from an article based on the MGNREGA Sameeksha—An anthology of research studies on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2006-2012.
[…] Has the MGNREGA really built assets, or has it just been a compendium of useless earth work? Has it created a lazy workforce that is affecting our work culture? Has it negatively affected agriculture by drying up the labour market? Has the MGNREGA become the biggest source of corruption in rural India? Has it failed to arrest distress migration? Has it helped household income, and reduced hunger in the poorest households?
[…] the oft-repeated aggressive assertion that MGNREGA does not build useful assets has been made without the support of any study to justify this claim. These assertions arise very often from fleeting visits to roadside worksites, with insufficient time for anything more than an anecdote. This off-the-cuff dismissal of “useless earth works” arises from a group which often lives on the other side of a fractured India, for whom mud and dirt become synonymous! It also raises the pertinent question of what indeed is a productive asset — a village tank that recharges 40 wells, or only a work of brick and mortar.
[…] by and large, show that sustainable assets have been created. A study of the best performing water harvesting assets in Bihar, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Kerala for instance show the potential of these works where a majority of the assets studied had a return on investment of well over 100 per cent, with investment costs recovered in less than one year! Perception-based surveys, including those carried out by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) in three States showed that the vast majority of assets were being used, and the people found them useful.
[…] it has provided livelihood and income security, decreased the incidence of poverty, increased food intake, reduced mental depression, positively affected health outcomes, and been successful as a self targeting scheme — as the poorest and most marginalised communities have sought work. In many States, it has decreased gender differential in wages, increased real wages accompanied by an increase in agricultural productivity and growth. This increase in agricultural productivity could be due to the watershed and water harvesting works, as well as the land development work on the fallow private lands of SC, ST and BPL families to make them productive. The studies do not bear out the assertion that MGNREGA has caused a shortage of farm labour.
[…] poor implementation in many places. Average wages paid are lower than minimum wages; there is a distressing delay in the payment of wages; demand is not properly captured (an NSSO survey found 19 per cent of people who wanted work did not get it); dated receipts for work applications are not properly given; and the payment of unemployment allowance is a rarity. There is a shortage of staff, and there are many instances of irregular flow of funds. Non-compliance with proactive disclosure provisions such as muster rolls being available at worksites continues to be a problem in some States. As a result, leakages and corrupt practices continue to exist. While social audits in Andhra Pradesh have significantly increased awareness and identified fraud, Sameeksha notes that social audits are a facade in most other States.
[…] Ten crore bank and post office accounts have been opened, bringing about financial inclusion, and reduced corruption in wage payments, but the delay in payments through such accounts is a major cause of distress.
[…] thanks to the MGNREGA offering alternative work, hundreds of bonded labour (Saheriya adivasis) in Rajasthan freed from generations of bondage. People have been saved from destitution in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, and Chhattisgarh, women have been empowered and are participating in huge numbers in Tamil Nadu, and the programme is even showing very positive results in “non-NREGA” States like Himachal Pradesh and Kerala.
For more on MGNREGA, see previous blog posts here.