India File

Mixed report card

Shobha Roy Recently in Nadia | Updated on February 25, 2020

Livelihoods created, but fewer projects completed

Come April, close to 450 women labourers enrolled under MGNREGS in the Chakdaha block of Nadia district in West Bengal will get a chick shed each, to ensure sustainable livelihood.

The two-storey shed, capable of holding around 30 chicks at a time, would help these women, who belong to BPL (Below Poverty Line) families, generate an estimated monthly income of around ₹2,500. According to Pushpen Chatterjee, BDO, Chakdaha block (pic shows tank cleaning works in this block), any woman labourer who has completed 80 days of work under MGNREGS would be eligible to receive the chick shed under the scheme.

“In the first phase we have identified 450 eligible women. We expect the scheme to have a certain social impact as it will lead to sustainable livelihood generation and will also be an incentive and motivation for other women workers to continue working under MGNREGS,” says Chatterjee.

The scheme could be scaled up depending on its success and the outcome in terms of revenue generation, he says. Nadia, which shares a border with Bangladesh, is considered to be one of the backward districts of West Bengal. The district has, however, implemented several projects such as building river embankments, polyhouses (greenhouses) for floriculture, setting up fish pond and aquaculture, fly ash brick manufacturing units — all leading towards asset creation under MGNREGA. In 2017, it was awarded for being India’s leading district in asset creation.

Asset creation

West Bengal ranks third in the number of assets created under MGNREGS — 47,89,008 assets. Andhra Pradesh ranks first with 65,14,323 assets, followed by Uttar Pradesh, at 62,75,421, as per information available on the MGNREGA website. In terms of ‘person days’ generated in 2020-21, West Bengal is ranked fourth at around 20.05 crore. Rajasthan ranked first at 29.50 crore, followed by Uttar Pradesh at 22.13 crore and Tamil Nadu at 21.90 crore.

However, there is some amount of controversy surrounding person days generated under MGNREGA and it is alleged that the job card is sold out or rented out and people in power earn money at the cost of poor labourers. “The amount of money allotted for a particular work is drained out and somebody is capitalising on this money. In fact, we also know of cases where a person has died still the money is being taken out in his name. Proper intervention from the administration is necessary, else it will act as a disincentive for workers,” says Bibhas Guha, member CPI(M), Chakdaha.

According to Guha, sometimes, the asset created under MGNREGA is also not put to proper use. Thus, the possibility of creating a sustainable source of livelihood is lost. This can be ensured only via proper monitoring and implementation, by the local administration. While the primary focus of asset creation under MGNREGA has been ground excavation related works, aiding in irrigation works, fisheries, groundwater recharge, drainage, soil and water conservation, etc., initiatives are being taken to experiment with some sustainable livelihood creation possibilities as well.

“A lot of work relating to excavation and creation of water bodies has been done under MGNREGA. The focus should now shift towards asset creation with material so as to move from wage generation to ensuring livelihood,” he points. It is nearly 20 years since MGNREGA has been rolled out and the scheme now needs an “overhaul”, he says.

Unfinished business

There has been a decline in the work completion rate on a year-on-year basis. The work completion rate was 99.63 per cent in FY-17 in Nadia, which came down to 92.91 per cent in FY-18 and 76.53 per cent in FY-19. Fiscal year 2019-20 is almost coming to an end but the work completion rate so far this fiscal has been a meagre 2.23 per cent — of the 35,047 work commenced only 783 have been completed so far this fiscal while 34,264 are not yet completed.

According to a senior official in administration, a drop in interest among people in enrolling themselves under MGNREGA began around two years back, following the stepping up of supervision and monitoring mechanism by making daily wage payments dependent on the amount of work done in the field.

This norm was introduced in 2018. “There was initially some resistance among workers about two years ago, but the situation is better now. While men are even now looking for other alternatives, we have had more interest coming in from the women from BPL families,” says the official. Under-performance of labourers coupled with under-creation of asset are the main reasons contributing to the poor work completion rates, he adds.

However, it will be difficult for NREGA to be able to bring about the much-needed change in the rural economy if there is a cutback in fund allocation. In Budget 2020-21, the government allocated ₹61,600 crore for the scheme, almost 13 per cent lower from the total estimated expense for 2019-20. “If any rollback (happens, payments will get delayed. This will lead to social unrest,” Chatterjee sums up. Meanwhile, State government officials refrained from commenting on the performance of the scheme.

Published on February 25, 2020

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