MGNREGA unquestioningly possesses a multifaceted potential to change the rural socio-economic, political and geographical context. Based on political and administrative good will, it can work a panacea to many issues in the rural areas. Similarly, since the first lockdown was announced and markets and factories were closed, the workers returning back to their villages needed scheme the most for its unique characteristics and relevance during the pandemic. In J&K, its significance to the major part i.e. rural can be also confirmed by Governor’s special package to implement the scheme.
The scheme though is instrumental in more ways than one: it may address the seasonal unemployment, flow of migration, and thereby keep villagers within their native places or families. But the NREGA like other schemes in J&K had largely subscribed to pollution that still continues in its implementation. It even has surpassed all the other programmes and become an institution of corruption, nepotism, vote bank and public money loot. In Jammu and Kashmir also, from the very first phase, down to very recent times, the issues i.e. durable assets, infrastructural development, employment, women empowerment and strengthening local governance have been still a dream. After sixteenth year’s completion, the scheme could not materialize development of village as high goal, and preferred severe preference to weaker section, when implemented in a sequence; it was affected by many offences, mal practices even in the presence of local Government.
In post special status, the situation has not changed but intensified. The promise of corruption free Jammu and Kashmir and good governance by Modi Government also could not change the scenario. In spite, the current pandemic is to aid in increasing the lack of transparency, unaccountability, inefficiency, corruption and unfairness.
The unskilled daily wagers, schedule caste/tribe, women workers who were willing to work manually, being the most numerous class, were believed that their interest in the scheme is the largest interest, hardly get fulfilled in actual. Again, I suppose it is not expected of me to impart to you much specific information on MGNREGA. You have less reason to believe and unbelieve me but my provocation to all of you is to draw your attention towards the defective implementation of scheme even after the reorganisation of the state into two separate union territories. The effects of thorough corruption, upon the Panchayat members or government officials own mind and reaction through their minds, back upon the village community, is perhaps equal to any other of its effects. Everyone may be happy with the formation of MGNREGA; but none has achieved the same feeling with ground reality. He or she may apply or complete allotted work on time but could not get the employment or wages in similar way. Under the scheme, the workers may receive an employment but not timely and complete wages. To redress the grievance, either they have to wait passionately or to cry before their political representatives. The successful submission of demand for work is not necessarily followed by success in getting the job. The regular visit to offices or grievances cell does not eventually guarantee the redressal, but mere promises. Despite informing about the right to guarantee of work, the representatives avail help in a manner that should confirm their vote bank.
I have more than once met the many people who complete their 100 days and hardly get complete wages on regular basis. The noticeable point is that they hardly get an employment allowance or extra compensation for delayed work or work beyond the prescribed limits. The women never visited the working sites for various unwanted reasons. There has been no service or facility on the work sites to increase the participation from every section of the village community. On the other hand, the successful implementation of the scheme in various other parts i.e. Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala etc. has not only provided an alternative for employment, but changed the geography of villages. But in J&K, the ambition of PRIs members and VLWs, BDOs and Gram Rozgar Sevak etc. to economic richness and elitism has always prevented the achievement of set target and proper utilization of public funds. The status of personal assets of these officials that is inconsistent with their regular salaries further validates the argument.
The Public cannot see transparency and accountability intended for rural development. It’s like much trust and responsibility have been bestowed on those who have major contribution to corrupt system. A very small group of local officials may find with honesty, but has no impact on the scenario due to large strength of the opposite group. The working culture is largely dominated by corrupt, unaccountable and deficient people only. In spite bringing change to the human lives, the scheme is reduced mere to distribution of Job cards and some irregular money among relatives, voters and friends. It has not yet evolved as rural infrastructural development, alternative to seasonal migration and agricultural dependence and above all a geographic change in rural areas. The withering away of forests covers in majority of villages has been never a concern under the implementation of NREGA.
It is to be hoped that the new Government of the Union Territory shall be putting special stress on the crucial issues viz. empowerment of people and strengthening PRIs with transparency, accountability, efficiency, equality, justice rather castism, autocracy, discrimination and corruption. An agreement has to be made that villages are the backbone of the state; they need to be liberated, emancipated and developed rather enslaved further through the unchecked agencies of local governance. There has to be no dispute between interest of people and local Government on operational level. The interest of few should not dominate but the common interest of whole population. And mere adding tiers to the Panchayat Raj will not also clean the picture but their functioning with reference to Acts and procedures. The level of MGNREGA from mere allocation of employment needs to be raised to a multifaceted approach of change at grassroots level. The agricultural based population not opting for low wages under the scheme demands motivation and awareness on the administrative side and should not become an excuse for maximising the selfish interest.
(The author is currently works as Research Fellow, Department of Public Policy and Public Administration, Central University of Jammu)