First lessons

Updated: Sep 30 2006, 05:30am hrs
The National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) programme has failed to evoke satisfactory responses from those states that house the largest number of poor households. The recent data on the nascent programme reveal that people from Bihar and UP have not come forward in sufficient numbers to take advantage of the scheme by registering themselves as job applicants. It is ironic that among poorer states, the least number of job cards were issued in Bihar. The good news, however, is that the scheme has taken off well in states like Orissa and Jharkhand, where the response has been more enthusiastic. In Madhya Pradesh, another backward state, the job seekers even exceed the number of poor.

Although it may be too early to pass judgment on the scheme, the rural development ministry can definitely draw some initial lessons, cure the scheme of obvious and inherent defects, and finetune it to fulfill the fundamental objective of freeing India from poverty and deprivation. A poverty alleviation scheme cannot be said to be working well unless it continuously lifts poor people above the poverty line in Bihar and UP. If a programme is not working well in these two states, then there is every reason for the Union government to revisit it to make it more effective and meaningful. In view of the importance of the NREG programme, it would also be imperative for the Union to provide necessary administrative support to poorer states to help them carry forward the poverty alleviation programme with more zeal.

On asset creation under the NREG, the focus seems to be mainly on rural connectivity. However, as the Union government is operating several programmes to build rural roads, it would be worthwhile to shift the focus to other areas such as flood control, water harvesting, irrigation, afforestation, etc. This is also necessary to properly utilise the NREG corpus, that is estimated to go up from Rs 10,000 crore to Rs 40,000 cr in the next five years, with the government extending the coverage from 200 districts to the entire country.