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5 Ways to revamp NREGA
India should broaden the ambit of NREGA by including various other social development programs
The recent spate of arguments between the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has once again hogged media attention. And this time, the limelight is on the minimum wage level that is linked to what was supposed to be one of UPA’s finest masterstrokes – The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which was launched in 2005-06 to alleviate poverty. The scheme ensures a minimum of 100 days employment per household in rural areas. But since its inception, the program have been mired with a series of corruption charges, thus questioning its credibility. Even in the initial year of 2006-07, the policy failed to keep its promise as it provided only 43 man-days of work. And the scenario gets worse, as 27 million households were found doing only 702 million man-days of work (26 days per household) in 2011. Moreover, it does not inculcate employable skill-sets among its workers; as most of the work done is ‘clay & mud’ based and revolves around temporary constructions – thus creating no long-term economies.
Such employment opportunities can only be explored by looking beyond the already set framework. Firstly, India does not have a well-defined disaster management mechanism and the solutions being exp synchronised with NREGA. As per the Ministry of Home Affairs, cumulative loss from natural calamities is around $48 billion during the last three decades. We can exploit our demographic dividend towards mitigation efforts in all rural areas, which are prone to disasters. This would not only be cost-effective but would also allow a timely intervention. Secondly, the government can employ those households for different awareness campaigns i.e. HIV/AIDS, female foeticide, child labour acts, anti-smoking, disability awareness campaigns, et al. This would solve the problem of the manpower crunch during such campaigns, due to which many of these programs fail to reach their intended beneficiaries. Thirdly, long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged people can also be employed in different community centres. Community services such as maintenance of public gardens, cleaning the roads and facilitating health campaigns could clearly benefit. Fourthly, the local administration can involve them in the creation of critical rural infrastructures. Most of our rural hinterland lacks permanent buildings for schools, hospitals & shelter for the homeless. NREGA can expand its ambit and include such services too! Fifth, the problem of waste management and recycling can be tackled easily through NREGA. Employees can be asked to collect waste in a scientific fashion (separating toxic & biodegradable wastes) and send it for proper recycling. Thus, they can help in not only reducing ‘toxic infections’ but also promoting recycling that can further create huge surplus for the program.
Most development plans are scrapped due to dearth of solutions. The government should regularly keep adding programs under NREGA to make it more effective and sustainable. And the five programs mentioned above could certainly provide a valuable start.
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