Ranchi, Nov. 7 (ANI): Over the years, one has often failed to understand why opinions vary among the nation's leaders on a particular issue. Often, because of these differences national flagship programs do not benefit the people living in far-flung regions the way they are expected to.
During the recent Economic Editors' Conference, Mr. Sharad Pawar, Minister for Agriculture, stated that most of the states he has visited are facing the problem of "non-availability of labour, particularly, at the time of sowing and harvesting".
Therefore, the 12th Plan would focus on "mechanisation of agriculture" to meet the emerging requirement for higher production of foodgrains and to tackle labour shortage in the farm sector.
On the other hand, Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister for Rural Development, said that there was a deliberate attempt to spread propaganda discrediting MNREGA. According to him, this scheme has increased agricultural wages, reduced distress migration in some parts of the country and created community assets, particularly water conservation structures.
The acceptance of the fact by Mr. Ramesh that there is room for improvement indicates that one needs to check the problems the beneficiaries are dealing with while implementing the scheme on the ground.
MNREGA is not only about generating employment but is expected to cater to the needs of various communities and lead to the overall development of the rural areas. It serves the stated purpose of building new capacities, developing villages and providing the means to irrigate far flung agricultural lands. It also helps eradicate problems like famine, malnutrition and mass displacement.
Jharkhand, for example, faced several of these challenges soon after its formation eleven years ago. Unemployment loomed large, continuous lack of irrigation facilities and lack of water had forced the mass exodus of farmers towards the cities in search of livelihood.NREGA brought hope with its launch in the year 2006.
Yet, many villages in Jharkhand are still bereft of water reserves like wells and ponds although these were among the primary promises made by the Scheme. The reasons are many. The hindrances at Government level have left many projects unfinished; some villages even face financial shortage and there are cases where even after the completion of the work, workers are yet to receive their wages.
In sum, this scheme ignites the desire amongst people to find employment, but is unable to define a format to do so. Jobs are not distributed in time. No work is available during the monsoon. Despite the shortcomings, this scheme works.
I chanced to visit Malti Panchayat under Mandar Block of Ranchi District where two wells, christened Ropna Uraon and Sumar Tirki, were approved by the majority of members of Gram Sabha under MNREGA in 2010. Ropna Uraon recounts, "We got an approval of Rs.2, 56,000 in 2010 out of which we received only Rs.1, 39,000. The remaining amount has not been disbursed to us from the Block Office."
Ropna was left with no other option than to take a loan. As on September 14, 2011, the village has not received remaining money from the Block. When the Panchayat Sewak, Govind Mahto was questioned, he said, "The block office is yet to receive the funds because of which we are unable to release the last portion of the funds to the village."
Labourers, who did not get their full wages, are quarrelling amongst themselves. The atmosphere in the village is intense. People in the village are angry with each other over financial matters. This is not the singular case. Bigu Uraon of the Malti Panchayat has a similar complaint. "To complete the well, I took a loan of Rs 12.000 from my sister yet the wages of the labourers are due. I fulfilled my end of bargain and am still awaiting the concerned powers to fulfil their promise," he said.
Whenever we raise questions in front of the Panchayat Sewak in Block Office, he sends us back saying the funds haven't been received from the district yet. Vigoo Uraon said, "This MNREGA project has indebted us beyond limit. What will happen to our family, how we will move in life is worrisome."
Namkoom Block has 23 Panchayats and every Panchayat was supposed to build 25 wells under MNREGA. The question being raised here is about where these 25 wells will be built. There is hardly any land available for these proposed wells!
Before the implementation of MNREGA, there was absence of proper irrigation facilities that caused disruption in agricultural productivity and forced villagers to migrate. Since its launch, they began to make the effort to find work in the village. Ironically, they now have a new reason to move to Ranchi: MNREGA gives Rs.120 as wages which is lower as compared to the daily wages offered in Ranchi.
Certain provisions of MNREGA have also acted as a barrier, limiting its access. Tangarbasli Panchayat in Mandar Block is not benefited by the scheme as it is situated on rocky outcrop. Ponds and wells could not be built there as the MNREGA rules prohibit building anything by damaging or cutting the rocks.
Sumri Uraon, the head of Tangarbasli Panchayat, said, "Developmental schemes under MNREGA are not useful for this village. The government needs to implement other schemes for this village or highlight such villages under MNREGA schemes. They can only be brought to the development fold by providing it enough water which is possible only through hand pumps."
The headman explained, "We want the policy makers to understand the requirement of the village before making any final decision about a village so that the fund released for projects could be completely implemented and the village could be developed without wasting any time."
The committee to redraft rules and guidelines of MNREGA is on its way to reworking the plan. They have decided the key points, which will help to give it a renewed thrust.
The Charkha Development Communication network feels that the only way to reform the scheme is to learn from the limitations and experiences of the beneficiaries. If heard, voices from such communities can ease the job of our policy makers and would allow them to rework the issues based, not only on theoretical findings, but on real issues as well. What remains doubtful is its validity in making the opinions of our leaders more coherent. Now that's a difficult task. By Aloka (ANI)