Ashok Pankaj’s edited volume Right to Work and Rural India – Working of the MGREGS captures the intent of the programme and its actual implementation across the States with great clarity.
The challenge of using technology as a means to reach wages on time has remained the greatest challenge in MGNREGS. This book places the context in the right frame of what was being attempted and what was being actually accomplished on the ground. That MGNREGS was neither a dole nor a freebie, was clearly brought out. The challenges of durable assets and livelihood security through them, was highlighted in many State studies.
Pankaj’s effort to bring together all his insights on MGNREGS together is really commendable. It provides a comprehensive overview of what MGNREGS set out to do and what it has achieved so far. It has rightly highlighted the other social and gender spinoffs of a workfare programme on this scale. The book is written with empathy for the unskilled wage earning MGNREGS worker and his quest for a life of dignity.
For Pankaj, MGNREGS is not only a workfare programme; it is a pathway to gender justice and human dignity as well.
Starting with the chapter on Inclusive Growth and Development, it moves to growth with justice, design salience for objectives, seamless reach unto the last, impacts on poverty, wage labour and labour market, asset creation and multiplier effects, social empowerment, and finally to Oceanic Potentialities and Himalayan hurdles.
He concludes with a passionate plea for Optimizing Inclusive Growth and Development. Innumerable figures and tables buttress the conclusions that the author draws from them. The effort is to be genuinely evidence based.
The way technology plays out and how better governed States’ ability to harness more funds of MGNREGS than the genuinely poorer regions, is another case in point that emerges from the analysis. But some of the data that he has marshalled could have been put to even greater depth of analysis. Pankaj captures the tussle between a wage employment programme and a rural infrastructure financial resource as well. It captures the changing thrust at different points of time, the thrust on convergence and often its absence, and the equity challenge in individual beneficiary works.
Pankaj also focusses on asset creation in the agriculture and water conservation sector.
The use of 90 days’ of wage works for beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana Gramin has also been examined. The animal sheds, the farm ponds, the irrigation wells, the horticulture garden support, have all been examined to illustrate the creation of durable asset and wealth.
Plea for higher wages
Pankaj makes a strong case for higher wages under MGNREGS, closer to market wages to ensure greater well-being.
The book could have been more enriching if it had responded with evidence to the mis-governance charges levelled at MNREGS.
Similarly, more concrete suggestions to tackle the challenge of more work under MGNREGS in poorer regions and deprived families could have made the book more useful for policy planners.
Issues like the interface of machines with manual unskilled wage labour, needed to be brought out more forcefully through the qualitative insights.
Pankaj has highlighted the need for a decentralised management with capability development, a robust accountability framework, social audit and convergence. Like his 2012 edited volume, this one too is a guiding light for any policy planner or researcher. The battle against poverty can be fought more effectively if some of the book’s insights are followed.
Title: Inclusive Development through Guaranteed Employment: India’s MGNREGS Experiences
Author: Pankaj Ashok
(The reviewer is a retired Civil Servant)