Dr. Manmohan Singh - Hon'ble Prime Minister, India
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to be here today at this gathering to celebrate the fifth year of implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
The UPA government has worked tirelessly these past six years to realize the vision of an India free from poverty. In this effort, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Programme has been one of our major flagship programmes.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The achievements of MGNREGA on the ground give us cause for some satisfaction. It has generated 880 crore person days of work since its inception. 52% of the work has been done by those belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and 47% by women.
Wages under the programme have risen from about Rs. 65 per person day in 2006 to about Rs 100 per person day. Wage rates for MGNREGA workers have recently been linked to increases in the Consumer Price Index for agricultural labourers, resulting in an immediate 17% to 30% increase of wage rates. The average person days of employment per household under MNREGA in the last financial year was 54 days.
As we move ahead, the challenge is to improve the implementation of the Act on the ground. We have to improve the delivery mechanism of the programme so that the right to employment created under the Act becomes an effective right available to all eligible persons. Modern technology can be a potent weapon in preventing leakages and improving transparency. The role of the Right to Information Act is also important in this regard.
A technology revolution is sweeping our cities, including the urban poor. Most households in urban India have mobile phones. We should bring about a technology revolution in rural India. It will not only change the face of rural India but more importantly the mind-set of the people. It will open up possibilities and opportunities people could never dream of.
We propose to create a biometric data base of all MGNREGA workers and use it to authenticate work applications, work-site attendance and wage payments. We hope it will substantially reduce instances of discrimination in work allocation, delayed payments and bogus muster rolls. I was very impressed with today’s demonstration of the technology that will be used for the work processes.
Wages are now being disbursed through more than 10 crore bank and post office accounts. The proposed extension of the business correspondent model of commercial banks to remote areas will extend the reach of technology and modern banking even further.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The implementation of MGNREGA is also giving a thrust to governance reform in rural India. Gram Panchayats have been designated as the most important implementing agency under the programme.
Micro-plans made at the village level, with active people’s participation, should determine which works should be undertaken and where. The people should be actively involved in the implementation, monitoring and social audit of the programme. However, the capacity of Panchayati Raj Institutions has to be enhanced to enable them to shoulder these huge responsibilities.
The Ministries of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj have jointly formulated a major initiative to strengthen the gram panchayats. The scheme will support in a phased manner the establishment of a technical unit in the Gram Panchayat, comprising of a Panchayat Development Officer and a junior engineer to improve managerial efficiency. Priority is being given to Left Wing Extremism affected districts, and districts where the annual MGNREGA expenditure is above Rs 100 crores.
There have been reports of harassment and intimidation of people performing social audits. Authorities should take strict action in such cases. Comprehensive rules to strengthen the social audit process by the gram sabha are being formulated.
Through MGNREGA we also hope to give a boost to the agricultural and allied economy.
As you know, the productivity of Indian agriculture is way below potential and much below international standards. Millions of our small and marginal farmers, especially in tribal areas, are being forced to work as MGNREGA labourers because their lands are no longer productive enough to support their families. The real success of MGNREGA will be achieved when it is able to address the circumstances that made the programme necessary in the first place.
If MGNREGA work were to help rebuild this productivity through water harvesting, drought proofing and ground water recharge, these labourers can go back to full time productive farming. Or they could take up other livelihoods on the foundation of water security created by MGNREGA.
We are considering how to integrate MGNREGA with the National Rural Livelihoods Mission for skills training and other schemes to develop horticulture, pisci-culture etc. We are also looking at ways to encourage the workers to form themselves into self-help groups.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
India’s heart beats in its villages. If we can find productive employment for our young population, particularly in rural India, we can rid the nation of poverty in a generation. But for this we need to have a bold vision that speaks of endless possibilities. It is the men and women assembled here today and the many hundreds of thousands of grassroots workers they represent who need to be the face of the change we seek.
If we can make the working of the MGNREGA citizen centric, transparent and accountable, we can usher in a new model of development and delivery at the doorsteps of rural India.
Before I conclude, I would like to congratulate all those who are being awarded here today for their invaluable contributions to the implementation of the scheme.