People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 16

April 27, 2008



On The National Rural  Employment Guarantee Act

Resolution adopted by the 19th congress on April 2, 2008

THE 19th congress calls on all Party units and mass organisations working in rural areas to intensify their efforts to ensure the proper and effective implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).

The CPI(M) and Left parties have played the pivotal role in the enactment of NREGA. In fact, it was argued by some in government that NREGA is a huge waste of national resources. Every effort was made to keep the wage below the minimum wage; to limit the benefits only to BPL families; and to give government the right to terminate the scheme whenever it wanted. The original Bill did not have any specific inclusion of women. It was only the intervention of the Left that removed these glaring deficiencies in the original Bill.

Given the low and declining number of days of work available in agriculture and the rise in rural unemployment, NREGA provides some relief to the rural poor. In the last two years the number of families covered has increased from 2.10 crores to 2.80 crores (up to January 2008) with the average number of workdays generated being between 36 and 43 a year. Since the Act guarantees 100 days a year for a family, it is clear that there are many shortcomings of implementation that require identification and redressal.

These include:

1. Restrictions on the type of work that can be undertaken. For example, since the emphasis is on earth work, little work can be made available under NREGA during the monsoon, when unemployment is highest The work permissible must be expanded by the effective use of Schedule 1 Clause 1 (ix) of the Act, which provides for “any other work which may be notified by the central government in consultation with the state government.” We must initiate proposals to the centre through state councils, while demanding more flexibility in programmes permitted.

2. Delays in the allocation of funds from the Centre. Instead of giving allocations linked to the state’s projected requirement, the central government arbitrarily decides an amount that is sent directly to the districts regardless of demand. Thus, while the demand for work fluctuates, the funds allocated to districts are uniform and are often less than required. Without necessary funds in the pipeline it is not possible to provide work on demand. It should be sent directly to the state rural development agencies, not districts. It is also known that the Finance ministry has kept the budgetary allocations for NREGA well below the requirement, anticipating that demand will be kept down. While the number of districts covered by NREGA has doubled in the last year, Budget 2008-2009 has increased the allocation of funds for the scheme by only 20 per cent. It is therefore necessary to raise the issue of funding in our demands. This can be linked with the demand for unemployment allowance. At present hardly any states are giving unemployment allowance, on the pretext that funds are not being sent on time. It is important to raise the demand for unemployment allowance, which will give momentum to the proper implementation of the Act.

3. The administrative set-up for implementation of NREGA in many States is dependent on personnel who are burdened with other responsibilities. The Act and the Rules specify that separate posts be created for Programme Coordinators, the cost of which can be included in the NREGA account. It is necessary to take this up also.

4. Wages under NREGA are piece-rated. In most states, the Schedule of Rates (SOR) is exploitative in the extreme. Workers are expected to dig and lift 100 cubic feet of earth (normal soil) to get a daily minimum wage. As a result, workers are denied minimum wages and in practice receive just two-thirds or even half the minimum wage in many states. In many states, a large number of workers are women whose economic vulnerability forces them to accept distress-level wages. The Rules of the Act specify that time-and-motion studies be conducted of the real work-time required for a specific job for different types of soil. Only some states have done so and altered the work norms, which nevertheless continue to be high. The demand for reduction of work norms to ensure a minimum wage is a crucial demand of the struggle. States should also have flexibility to include foodgrains as component of wages to be provided by centre as in the earlier `food for work’ programme.

5. The issues of ghost muster rolls, use of contractors, corruption, and lack of social audit. These issues have been brought up in many states. These must be added in our demands.

Just as we had struggled for the formulation of the Act, it is now equally important to struggle for just and proper implementation. The weaknesses in our ground-level interventions must be assessed and removed. A concerted and sustained effort must be made to ensure that the benefits of the Act come to the rural poor.

The 19th Party Congress calls on its units to give priority to the work on NREGA in rural areas so as to benefit the rural poor.