March 2008, Number 3


Two Years of NREGA: A Great Betrayal of the Poor

- -- Dhirendra Jha

On the basis of a random sample survey of 1000 job-cards at a Convention of many thousands of card-holders of Darbhanga, Samastipur and Muzaffarpur, it was found that even after the completion of almost two financial years, around 65% families did not get jobs even for a single day. In the case of the 35% families who did get jobs, 3 to 5 times the number of actual man-days of work were falsely entered on their job cards, based on forged muster rolls. Those who got jobs were paid only Rs. 30 to 60 per day in contrast to the minimum wages of Rs. 75 (now Rs. 82) per day. Also, most of the wage payment is still pending. At the convention of job-card holders, men and women hailing from different panchayats complained that mostly the Mukhia/panchayat secretaries/rozgar sevaks keep job-cards in their own possession. There are no arrangements for collecting applications for cards and there is reluctance in accepting them. There is rampant use of contractors and tractors in NREGS work. Leaders of most political parties at panchayat level have become NREGS contractors. They often threaten the labourers who demand jobs or proper wages. Many complaints of violence were lodged in the convention.

By and large, this is the ground realty of the whole of Bihar. Newspapers are flooded with reports of corruption in implementation of NREGA and emerging mass movements against this. The picture in other states like Rajasthan, UP, MP etc. is not different. Some districts of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, MP are being projected as success stories. However, these are misleading and nothing but the skill of media marketing, because there is immense exploitation of labour in these areas and the average wages there are much less than the minimum wages in the respective states. In these states, NREGS has been turned into instrument of exploitation of the labour power of tribals and the women.

In Left-ruled states too the picture is dismal. These states have proved laggard in terms of providing 100 days job, proper wages and unemployment allowance to the card-holders. Attempts have been made to silence all voices of protest by brute force or by framing false cases against the protesters. It seems that Left Governments find it better to forget the pro-poor NREGA and do all they can to implement the pro-corporate SEZ Act.

In view of this real life picture, the Sample Audit Report of CAG is simplistic. The report could not capture, in the least, the reality of corruption, red-tapism and laggardness in implementation of NREGA. Despite legal entitlements, 100 days job, minimum wages or unemployment allowance could not be ensured to any worker in any part of the country, let alone ensuring facilities at the work-site, health care etc. Statistics regarding generation of man-days, covering house-hold etc. are all creation of forged muster rolls. But instead of action on the basis of the Report – fixing accountability, conducting a thorough inquiry and plugging all loop-holes –attempts are being made to divert the whole debate. The anti-NREGA lobby, citing its failure, is putting a question mark on the NREGA scheme itself. The pro-NREGA liberal intellectuals, on the other hand, are going far beyond defending the idea of NREGA from such neo-liberal detractors; by underplaying the failure in implementation, they end up shielding the political forces that are actually bent on scuttling the potential of NREGA.

It is not necessary to talk about the neo-liberal anti-NREGA lobby because their class character is well-known. But those intellectuals, leaders and parties among NREGA supporters who want to conceal its failure or want to limit it to administrative apathy or weakness of infrastructure etc, are actually trying to conceal the real face of the anti-poor system in the country. The failure of NREGA should be understood not in terms of neo-liberal policies alone but should be situated in the history of failure of pro-poor laws and schemes in the country. In fact, left to the ruling classes and governments are concerned, NREGA is all set to meet the same fate as that of zamindari abolition, land reform, garibi hatao, 20-point programme, mass education campaigns etc.

The Sonia-Rahul campaign is nothing but a new version of Indira Gandhi‘s ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan. The claim of providing legal guarantee of 100 days job for 10 crore poor, by allocating a mere Rs. 10 crore is just an eye-wash for the poor. Also, to hold only the state governments responsible for the failure of NREGA is political cunning because following the Centre, State Governments too are busy wooing the corporate houses and the poor are used only as fodder. In all discussions and debates going on in view of the completion of two years of NREGA’s implementation and the CAG Report, there is a mysterious silence on the question of why Governments crossed all limits of constitutional propriety and laws to brutally implement the pro-corporate SEZ Act 2005 while the NREG Act meant to serve the poor has been left to die a silent death. Without exposing this aspect, without developing the class unity and class consciousness of the poor, NREGA too will remain toothless like earlier pro-poor schemes, just a part of the political economy of loot in the countryside.

It is in this light that AIALA has demanded an allocation of Rs. 50000 crore for NREGA in the coming budget. Further AIALA has demanded that the DM and DDC should be made accountable for NREGA implementation and there must be statutory provisions for regulating them in this respect. Only by confronting the power structure, by an offensive against its pro-rich policies, can the rights of the poor be protected and NREGA saved.