The Workshop on NREGA: Beyond Wages to Sustainable Livelihoods was organized on the 21st of November, 2008. The event saw wide ranging participation from various stakeholders in the form of Ms. Amita Sharma Joint Secretary MoRD, Sh Chinmoy Basu, Additional Secretary MoRD and Sh. Ram Lubhaya, Principal Secretary (RD), Govt. of Rajasthan, Ms. Rashmi Shami, Director NREGS, Madhya Pradesh from the Government. In addition, Mr Deep Joshi, Mr Prabhu Ghate, both development consultants, Mr K. S. Gopal from Centre for Environment Concerns, Hyderabad and Mr Vijay Shankar, Samaj Pragati Sahyog, Mr Ravindra, WASSAN and Ms Madhu Khetan, PRADAN also participated as resource persons.
There were about 90 participants in the workshop drawn from different fields, a lot of them practitioner NGOs from the States. The States represented were Jharkhand, odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. There were also participants from academic institutions, donors, multi-lateral and bilateral institutions.
There were a vast set of problems and issues that were voiced at the workshop, in addition to a number of suggestions and ways forward. The experience from Madhya Pradesh where the administration has deliberately taken steps to graduate families from wage employment to creation of durable assets by designing and incorporating many need specific sub-schemes into the overall NREG Scheme converge was received very well. The presentation from Andhra Pradesh where innovative ideas of generating wage employment has been tried out was another interesting experience. The presentation from West Bengal focussed on capacity building of PRIs by creating trained community resource persons to undertake large area planning based on watershed principles, thereby increasing productivity of the whole area and creating long term livelihood assets. The resource persons spoke about the issues and constraints that are faced by the implementers of the programme and the need to streamline systems and increase transparency. They highlighted the need for the NGOs to strengthen the social mobilisation of the workers so that they are able to effectively demand their right.
The participants from the States also talked at length about the struggle they are undertaking today for ensuring effective implementation of the programme. In spite of the large number of issues in the short run, there is a lot of hope and expectation from the programme, and the workshop reiterated the resolve of the participants – both from Government and from NGOS - to work together to ensure that the schemes are implemented properly and the benefits reach the deserving communities.
The major recommendations of the workshop include:
- NREGA is definitely a safety net programme and thus should result in protection from requirement of another safety net programme. Thus the works undertaken should result in productive activities and assets so that gradually NREGA becomes redundant.
- NREGA Convergence with other programmes- Many ideas of convergence were presented in the form of learning from Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh and West Bengal experiences. More pilots need to be taken up on similar lines. For instance, a goat or dairy programme can be taken up by converging NREGA with SGSY schemes where NREGA can contribute to fodder development, creation of physical infrastructure (sheds) and production subsidies in terms of wages and SGSY can help in procuring the animals and other inputs.
- The NREGA planning can be made an opportunity to plan for enhancing the resource endowment based on people’s needs and demands in a given area. These area development plans can be converted into a shelf of projects to be implemented under NREGA.
- Ideas for works should be generated from the people so that the works which are actually beneficial and caters to the aspirations of the community are taken up
- Educating communities to generate their own plan and also developing their capacities to exercise their rights is an important intervention for CSOs. Technical capacities of the people also need to be enhanced. It is also necessary to strengthen CBOs and user groups to undertake planning and to ensure effectiveness, transparency and accountability in planning and execution.
- Capacity enhancement of PRIs
Capacity building of PRIs is required for both planning and execution as demonstrated by West Bengal’s experience in creating village based community resource persons trained by CSOs who can help people in planning and generating works. The planning for works has to be shifted from Gram Sabha level to the hamlet level. The Gram Sabha is conducted at the revenue village level comprising of many hamlets which are unable to relate with each other socially and physically and their realities are many a times quite different.
- Labour subsidies in production
Opportunities do exist in improving private assets, creating common assets for specific production systems and providing critical services for improving these production systems. Such labour subsidies through NREGA wages will help in establishing sustainable production systems to promote agriculture and reduce further dependence on safety net programmes.
- Creation of Social and Human Capital
NREGP investments may also enhance human capital needs by creating trained nurses (dai-s), para-vets, literacy workers and providing wages to them.
- More number of Pilots for demonstrating convergence approach need to be taken up with longer project periods of 3-5 years
- Investments in private assets should be upscaled so as to create and develop small holders’ assets providing them with sustainable incomes
- Sustainability of assets is an area of concern. This is an area that requires close monitoring and study.
- Under some pilot projects under NREGA, plans were prepared by the people and submitted to Block and district authorities by the Gram Sabha keeping in view the livelihood perspective. Still the implementing authorities have not accepted these plans. This issue needs to be looked into.
- Technical Support Institutions need to be identified at district level as happened in case of BRGF to support PRIs in making estimates, plans, evaluation of works executed etc. which can help in operational level bottlenecks.