Agri Business

‘Agricultural work should be part of MGNREGA’

AM. Jigeesh New Delhi | Updated on May 16, 2020

RJD candidate from Vaishali Lok Sabha seat Raghuvansh Prasad Singh   -  THE HINDU

When the UPA government rolled out Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) Scheme, it was the low-profile math professor from Vaishali in Bihar, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, as Rural Affairs Minister who implemented the flagship programme. Now that MGNREGA and its urban counterpart is being increasingly discussed as part of the economic relief especially to the urban poor and the migrants, Singh told BusinessLine in an interview that any government scheme is as only effective as the community participation. And participatory governance is not a hallmark of the present dispensation. Excerpts:

The Government now seeks to address the migrant workers crisis through MGNREGS; would you say it is a step in the right direction.

We created MGNREGA as a demand-driven scheme which was rolled out strictly through the Gram Sabhas and the Panchayati Raj system which decided on the beneficiaries. The works under MGNREGA such as creating irrigation systems or any other infrastructure used to be decided by the three-tier panchayats. The present Government is instrumental in demolishing this system. The Gram Sabhas have vanished. The bureaucracy and the government officers are running it now. Afsarshahi (bureaucracy) runs MGNGREA, it is no more the Scheme that was effective and because of which the boost in rural demand in 2008 helped India fight global recession. This has been the natural corollary of events in the six years since Prime Minister Narendra Modi described MGNREGA as the living monument of UPA government’s failure. If the PM thought it was a fraudulent Scheme and had something better in mind to provide employment as a right to the rural poor, then he should have shelved MGNREGA and worked genuinely for what he believed would deliver. But the Centre crippled the Scheme, demolished Panchayati Raj institutions, the Gram Sabhas and the infrastructure that was the basis for the success of MGNREGA but still continued to channel money into it. The net result is that from a people-driven, community-inspired national programme, it has passed on to the hands of a few bureaucrats like any other badly-implemented government scheme.

Now, after about 50 days of lockdown, the Finance Minister has suddenly started speaking about MGNREGA. But if the Centre continues to implement it through district magistrates and other bureaucrats, it will remain ineffective. The success and efficacy of MGNREGA was the people-centric and community-centric institutions it created and worked on. The present government has an inherently undemocratic and top-heavy approach to governance. They don’t believe in consultation, due process and community participation and seem to have an aversion towards participatory democracy and governance. I suspect over-centralisation and reliance on bureaucracy without wider consultation and community participation is the reason for the failure of their grand pronouncements like Make in India. MGNREGA was a big step towards eradicating poverty by ending unemployment. Employment for all is the first step towards ensuring roti, kapda, makan, padhai aur dawai (food, clothes, shelter, education and health). People are ready to work. So it is the duty of a Government to provide work. So we passed MGNREGA in Parliament and this Government just ruined that Scheme. In the present context when a catastrophic event has happened in ordinary people’s lives and experts are talking about boosting not just MGNREGA, increasing work days from 100 to 200 but also a MGNREGA-like programme for the urban poor, this government is squarely to be blamed for demolishing an institution that had already been created and functional.

So you’re saying that a centralised system of governance with an over-reliance on bureaucracy has replaced participatory and consultative processes?

Absolutely. They have no credible institutions working and no collaborative spirit in government systems. That is why most of their schemes remain on paper. There are senior, seasoned administrators and people who have experience in dealing with the public in the Opposition, but it is probably beneath them to consult anyone. For the first one month when the country was facing a catastrophe and millions of lives were being destroyed, some magic tricks were being played by lighting lamps and clanging vessels. The Prime Minister should take governance and administration seriously. The success of Kerala government in tackling the Covid-19 crisis through the Panchayati Raj institutions is testimony to how a pandemic, or any calamity of this scale for that matter, can only be fought through a bottoms-up, community-participation approach. The five major pillars of the Panchayati Raj system namely awareness generation, people’s participation, strict vigilance, monitoring and lastly, transparency and accountability are key to creating an inclusive system where the Government’s interface with the people is in the control of the people. The bureaucracy is kept on its toes.

The FM’s direction of providing migrant workers employment through MGNREGA could entail farm work, what are your views?

Agriculture work should be made part of the MGNREGA. This will be a help not just for the migrant workers but for the farmers too. Governments may take a small percentage of share from farmers for letting MGNREGA workers to work in their farms. This step will create huge employment opportunities. Farmers can approach panchayats or Gram Sabhas for workers and workers can also approach them for work. As the work is real, monitory or social accountability will also be real. Government can subsidise the farm labour cost too like fertilisers, power and other farm subsidies. This will enhance productivity. It will result in an alliance between workers and farmers. Workers will get work at their villages. This alliance of workers and peasants will stop afsarshahi and once again strengthen the Panchayati Raj system.

Published on May 15, 2020

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