Concerns on Proposed Amendments to NREGA

 (Text of a letter addressed by the AIALA to the minister for Rural Development, Shri C P Joshi)


It  is in the context of the recent moves to amend the NREGA Act that we would like to highlight a few serious issues for consideration by the Ministry of Rural Development and your government for action.
At the outset we would like to clarify that we are placing these points on the basis of the experience of the All India Agricultural Labour Association (AIALA) since 2006 in organising, mobilising and raising awareness on the NREGA Act amongst the rural poor and in our struggle for ensuring an effective implementation of the provisions. The All India Agricultural Labour Association is an organisation of the rural labouring poor, formed in 2003 and which has since been representing the issues of social dignity, wage, employment, land, forest, and housing rights and other concerns of the rural poor. The organisation has 25 lakh members with units in 300 districts, including some of the poorest and most backward districts of the country.
AIALA’s contention is that the spirit of the NREGA Act is still waiting to be implemented. The Act is yet to reach all the beneficiaries and those seeking employment are not getting even the minimum legal entitlement of 100 days work. There are huge gaps in the payment of minimum wages, timely disbursement of wages, unemployment allowance in the absence of work provision and an effective grievance redressal system. Moreover, scams and siphoning of funds have come to light in several areas. In this context moves to amend the Act would have been welcome, provided it had been towards strengthening of the interests of the targeted beneficiaries,  but it is indeed disappointing that the proposals for amendments are taking place in a completely non transparent manner without a consensus or discussion with those working in the area or through a debate in the Parliament.
Instead of showing concern on the issues of defective implementation of the Act, what we have found is a serious lack of concern on the part of the government machinery to even recognise the concerns, let alone efforts towards resolving inherent problems. As in the case of other programmes that have been periodically introduced for poverty alleviation but which have hardly resulted in any change for its intended beneficiaries, NREGA also appears to be heading in the same direction because of governmental neglect and vested interests. The non transparent moves, reluctance to address issues raised by the rural poor indicates that the hype generated over the success of the NREGA is less for the poor and more for political milking. This is nothing less than a betrayal of the rural poor.
The following are issues that have prompted this response and which call for urgent attention:

The Redressal System

The Redressal System is completely faulty and inadequate in its premise. The administrative officials who are supposed to be implementing the programme are themselves given the task of their own monitoring. However, far from an honest assessment, they end up participating in the loot when not leading it themselves. We thus demand that an autonomous regulatory body be formed for dealing with grievances, which should operate independently and away from officials implementing the scheme. The redressal mechanism should have structures from the Panchayat to the State level and representation from labour organisations and political parties. Unfortunately this does not find any mention in the proposals for amendment.


The issue of penalties also fails to find mention in the Amendment proposals. We demand that strict penalties be ensured against the officials and state governments failing to implement the legally entitled provisions. Strict punishments must be given to those hoarding job cards, violating payment rules, and those not providing crèche and other facilities at the work site.
The Central government also must be made accountable if it does not ensure the timely disbursement of appropriate allocations based on the fund requirements of each district as per the strength of the job card holders.

Payment Delays

The delay in payments for accomplished work has become an established feature of NREGA. Efforts to remove these are welcome. However the Ministry’s assumptions of delays in payment as fallout of limitations in banking and postal services is flawed one. Experience indicates that the delay in payment is deliberate in most cases. They have either to do with problems of measuring piece rate work, or they are ploys to swindle the workers by the functionaries either by underpaying them or by not disclosing to them the true estimates. Hence this issue must be dealt with in the first phase before embarking upon ambitious projects of banking extensions that concerns the financial institutions rather than the pressing crisis of rural workers. For this purpose we suggest that,
1.       Recoveries be made from the functionaries responsible and compensation be given for each day of delay. 
2.       Amendments be made to end piece rate work, which has been a ground for delaying payments on the pretext of correct measurements. 
3.       Money must be transferred from the Panchayat account to the Bank and post office nearest to the villages where work is being undertaken, instead of concentrating them at Block headquarters. In the absence of these two institutions near the village, the money may be transferred to the account of labour cooperatives which should anyway be formed in each village/ panchayat so as to empower the workers. The money could then be transferred directly into the accounts of the individual worker upon the weekly submission of attendance report and muster rolls. This must be made into a statutory provision.

Convergence issues and enlisting of work in NREGA

Convergence of programmes and enlisting of new kinds of work under NREGA can certainly be envisaged. However, this should be accompanied by strict compliance with the guidelines and an increase in provision of legally entitled work of 200 days at a rate of at least Rs 200 per day. Land development and increase in productive capacities of private land must be strictly restricted to land belonging to SC, ST, land reform, and Indira Awas Yojana beneficiaries and that belonging to Below Poverty Level households. Any attempt to extend it to other farmers runs the risk of perpetuating the feudal phenomenon of ‘tied’ labour.    

Lok sewaks

The appointment of Lok Sewaks as a contract worker of NGOs and other bodies must be strictly avoided. Instead labour cooperatives must be formed and training provided to ensure effective functioning. In addition, looking at the magnitude of work, Rozgar Sewaks must be appointed in each revenue village.

Fixing of wage rate

The fixing of minimum wage is within the purview of the State governments, no attempts must be made to restrict minimum wage levels within the NREGA programme. The Central government instead should try to ensure a wage of Rs 200 in all states as a base level, given the price rise and inflation eating into the daily household budgets. This would be in keeping with the minimum wage rates stipulated by the 6th Pay Commission. The NREGA wages must also be fixed as per the consumer price index. A part of the wages could also be given as grains upon the demand of the workers at subsidised rates to stave off hunger and increasing prices of essential commodities.
State-level Rozgar Parishads are currently ornamental bodies in most states, suitable amendment thus may be taken to ensure that they guarantee the participation of organisation of rural poor as a statutory requirement.
Documentation of NREGA, particularly the Muster Rolls must be made available for public scrutiny at the Block and Panchayat level to ensure transparency and social auditing. The documents of NREGA must be easily accessible upon demand through the Right to Information Act. 
Participation of women is enhanced in all the NREGA projects such that at least 33 percent of all project participation consists of women. 

We demand that the operating guidelines be made into legally binding rules and concerns of the rural labouring poor be taken into consideration and that the government refrains from betraying the interests of this large section of the Indian society.