Employment as a Right – India – National Rural Employment Guarantee Act

Employment as a Right  – India – National Rural Employment Guarantee Act

India is in the forefront of social policy and many people forget that; to recognize that; because we’re quite
mesmerized by the wonderful achievements on the economic front of this country. Tremendous economic prosperity and progress but the human development idea and the MDG says that its not enough. The newspapers cannot just cover the
growth story of India. You also have to look at what is happening to the lives of people. Can we confidently stand up and say that the environment is better in India? Can we confidently stand up and say
the quality of schooling has improved? Can Indians confidently stand up and say
that the access to drinking water is much better? Dr. Shiv Kumar, Economist Progress in society has to be judged by these indicators of human development. What does being an elected village head mean for you? Being a village head means to remove poverty in my village that I am able to reach all people, to serve them and to care for them, to see what my village needs and to get the village council to address these needs In order to distribute the benefits of economic
growth more equitably, in 2005, the Indian Government passed the Mahatma Gandhi National
Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and consequently launched an ambitious programme that would
provide a legal guarantee for 100 days of employment every year, at the statutory minimum
wage, to all adult members of all rural households that were willing to work in development schemes
beneficial to their communities. The Employment Guarantee Act is an Act that gives people the right to be employed in local public works within 15 days. If they apply for work and if they don’t get employment, then they have to be given an employment allowance. Dr. Jean Drèze, Economist This is a very progressive legislation; very unique actually.; which was a bit of a political miracle. Our team visited a village near Varanasi, a town located in the Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Here, a local NGO, the Mahila Swarojgar Samiti, or MSS, has been raising awareness amongst village women, organising self help groups, conducting leadership skills training and helping women access NREGA, the rural employment guarantee scheme launched by the Indian government. Ms. Rekha Chauhan, MSS As stipulated in the Indian constitution, women’s participation in NREGA should be should be 33%. And you are seeing a real life example of this in the village panchayat of Neemrakhauna. As you can see, the number of women working here are more. We interviewed some women in this village and asked them how their lives had changed after working for NREGA and with NGOs like the Mahila Swarojgar Samiti. When you bring home money, you can get a lot of work done. For instance our children have to drop out after primary school because we don’t have enough money. We cannot send them to good schools because they are expensive. So, I told my husband that he should look after household expenses and that I would work in NREGA and pay for the school. A lot of progress has been made. Where earlier there was no money for food and medicines, there is now. Where earlier we were not literate and not able to speak with confidence in public, now we can even stand up to the village head. And we can even dare to tease him. It is a law. It is not just a scheme. It’s a legal right. And I think it could really have wonderful effects, not just in terms of providing security. The first objective ofcourse is to provide some kind of social security to people but it can also bring about a lot of very interesting social, economic and political change. because it reduces migration, it is implemented through local institutions that have a new lease of life through this law, because it helps women to come out of the households and to become part of the public sphere The biggest challenge is to bring women outside their homes because until now they have stayed behind veils as required in our culture I had never been outside my home, so I didn’t know what happened outside its four walls. I thought that if I saved money with the NGO persons, would have run away with my money. I felt that if I sat and listened to them, I would have wasted my time instead of doing my household work. So, I did not encourage them. I used to tell them not to waste their time with me but their team kept coming back. I slowly realised that what they were telling me was right. It was in my benefit. So, I took out time from my daily activities to work with them. We started doing small activities and earning some money. The we made a women’s collective. This increased our collective voice and power. I felt that by going outside the four walls of my home, I was able to exercise my right to live according to my will and that I was also able to help other women exercise their rights and was able to share knowledge with other women on how to live their lives according to their will. When women gain leadership skills and confidence, they understand that NREGA is a law, Ms.Rekha Chauhan, MSS wherein, as citizens of their village, they and their communities must fulfill their responsibilities and support us in helping people access to their rights others to access their rights and fulfill their needs. Dr. Shiv Kumar, Economist But what is distinct about the Employment Guarantee Act are the clauses to ensure better governance and accountability. Social audit, which means an audit by people, of the functioning of the programme is mandatory So, everyone, and in fact the government is also, actively encouraging social audits. Groups of people can go into a village, ask for the accounts, call for a public meeting and ask people if they were paid the wages they were assured You were supposed to get 100 days of work. Are you getting it? Were you offered a job when you went to ask for it? So, its making a huge difference. The NREGA employment guarantee scheme has been surrounded by criticisms and controversies around mismanagement, poor effectiveness and its limited impact on the drivers of poverty. And if the programme is well implemented, you could really transform the rural economy of Jharkhand through it Dr. Jean Drèze, Economist On the other hand, in reality, Jharkhand is one of the most corrupt and criminalised states of India. And the ground reality of this Employment Guarantee Act in Jharkhand is quite dismal. While it is easy to find people who say that better programmes could be designed, it is not as easy to find people who can actually design and enforce these programmes effectively. My feeling is that if the work was organised and formed strong organisations, then they would be able to save the programme and make it work. And this is the really the big opportunity in the future. Its success is in the fact that first it was organised, people’s needs were then assessed and their knowledge and capacity was built. Only then, did they acquire leadership and learn what was written in the legislation and how they would get it. I really believe that in India there is a huge democratic space that can be used much more than it is used at the moment to bring about that kind of change. So, basically I see myself as being a small part of all that. And that’s where things like academic research, influencing policy makers and being part of social movements, all come together. And that’s where my heart is. Subtitles by the Amara.org community

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About the Author: Oren Garnes


  1. Empowering women to enable them to have 'Rights' and gain self respect is a great achievement. An excellent bill even-though there are some corruption issues. The issues will reduce as more women get on the scheme and take control. I suggest you have sub-titles in English because the woman speaking in Hindi made some excellent points. Well done!

  2. We asked volunteers to help in that through Amara (see the link). Hope it will be done soon.

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