It is difficult to get woman workers at Rs 350 per day in Kerala villages. Most farm works are done by migrant laborers from States like Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal. But under NREGS, it is easy to get large number of women workers at Rs 160 per day. People prefer NREGS work because of less work commitment and less work effort required under NREGS. They get minimum wages for ultra minimum work they are doing.
The story of NREGS may not be similar in states where there is bonded labor, high level of underemployment etc. But the quality of work done or assets produced from the NREGS programme is poor throughout the country.
The programme is already a big attraction in India’s rural development endeavor. Perhaps, the most significant fact is that gainful employment for a BPL family member is the responsibility of the government because of the statutory support of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The NREGS envisages creating rural assets. But a close examination of the work already had done indicate that in most states assets are not created or not even improved. Coordinators of the programme at the Panchayaths are busy in finding projects where people with little physical capacity and tool skills are to be employed. Afterall, what type of assets can be produced by women using basic tools?
Government has spent around one lakh crore rupees for the programme over the last three years. The scheme was politically attractive and socially, gathered attention. But the economic cost was much higher. Now it is time to make the NREGS more productive in the wake of shrinking resources with the government. Legally, the government now has the obligation to provide employment under the Act to the targeted people. Politically, no government will be courageous to shorten the scheme. But resources should not be used extravagantly. The best way is to ensure the quality of NREGS created assets. Next budget should chalk out a plan to ensure the quality of NREGS works.