The silver lining is that, even in Orissa, the traditional system of extortion seems to be finding it harder and harder to survive. In fact, contractors are not particularly happy with NREGA; vulnerable as it may be, the system has become more difficult for them to control. They are apprehensive of a possible tightening of the checks and balances, and have started fading away in some places (in almost half of the sample gram panchayats, there was no evidence of their involvement).
In some of the sample gram panchayats (notably in the Boudh District), corruption levels in NREGA are already much lower, by all accounts, than in earlier employment programmes such as SGRY and the National Food For Work Programme. Strict implementation of the transparency safeguards is the best way to accelerate this process of “phasing out” of the traditional system of corruption.
This story would be incomplete without a mention of the tremendous potential of NREGA in the survey areas. Where work was available, it was generally found that workers earned close to (and sometimes more than) the statutory minimum wage of Rs 70 per day, and that wages were paid within 15 days or so. This is an unprecedented opportunity for the rural poor, and there was evident appreciation of it among casual labourers and other disadvantaged sections of the population. Some of them even hoped that NREGA would enable them to avoid long-distance seasonal migration, with all its hardships.
Further, there is plenty of scope for productive NREGA works in this area, whether it is in the field of water conservation, rural connectivity, regeneration of forest land, or improvement of private agricultural land. The challenges involved in “making NREGA work” should always be seen in the light of these long-term possibilities, and their significance for the rural poor.
From The Hindu: