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National MGNREGA Symposium

10 August 2015 Share: facebook share twitter share

On 10-11 August, PACS and partner Gramya Sansthan organised a two-day National Symposium on the government’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) entitled “MGNREGA: Interrogative Development Perspective in India”. The event was held in collaboration with the Department of Sociology at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and other civil society organisations.

Aims and objectives

The aim of the symposium was to bring together academics, social activists, government officials and civil society to discuss and interrogate the effectiveness of MGNREGA as a tool for rural development.

MGNREGA is a government employment scheme that provides 100 days of paid work every year to any rural household that demands it. Whilst its intentions are good – to provide wages and employment to rural people, especially women, during times when they are not involved in agricultural work – the scheme has been highly criticised.

1% of India’s GDP is spent on the scheme and so it is a large, expensive and highly contentious topic. Some of its main critics say that it is not reaching all sections of rural society, it is negatively affecting agricultural development and has high levels of institutional corruption. Others argue that the benefits it is providing to the rural poor outweigh its challenges.

Opening sessions

The symposium was hosted by the Department of Sociology at BHU in Varanasi and was graced with many distinguished professors and scholars from reputed universities across India.

The 2-day programme began with an inaugural ceremony where the Honourable Vice-Chancellor of BHU, Professor G.C. Tripathi was invited as the Chief Guest. In his brief opening speech he noted said that "Development in India has always been about growth with social justice” and he emphasised the need for equal participation of women.

A brief overview on MGNREGA was shared by Professor Ashok Pankaj from Jawal Nehru University, after which other academics highlighted its uniqueness, its contribution to rural base employment and village development processes, along with its shortcomings, loopholes and challenges. 

MGNREGA and inclusive development

The plenary session on “MGNREGA and Inclusive Development” was chaired by Professor Himanshu Shekha Jha.

The meaning of inclusive growth and inclusive development were shared by guests and speakers – notionally that all people (regardless of caste, gender, ethnicity, religion or disability) should be included in and benefit from development schemes like MGNREGA.

The session highlighted the fact that MGNREGA is one of the most ambitious employment schemes that has ever been implemented globally and that some remarkable achievements have been seen. These include setting up minimum wages and rights-based, demand-driven employment and asset creation.

Mr Prashant Kumar Anchal - PACS State Manager for Uttar Pradesh - contributed to this session, comparing figures that show the positive difference in inclusion of communities in blocks where PACS have implemented the Integrated Participatory Planning Exercise (IPPE). He also shared the link to the recently updated web portal of MGNREGA where all sorts of data can be accessed in a click.  

PACS State Manager for Uttar Pradesh - Prashant Kumar Anchal - addresses the gathering to talk about making MGNREGA more inclusive.PACS State Manager for Uttar Pradesh - Prashant Kumar Anchal - addresses the gathering to talk about the experiences of PACS in making MGNREGA more inclusive and accessible to all.

MGNREGA and agricultural development

This session was chaired by Professor E. Haq and critically examined the impact of MGNREGA on agriculture.

One of the main criticisms surrounding MGNREGA is that it is pushing farmers to abandon agricultural activities in favour of MGNREGA work. However, the symposium delegates agreed that this decrease in agricultural work is not caused by MGNREGA. On the contrary - MGNREGA is actually providing rural labourers with additional days of work during lean seasons. The main driver that is reducing agricultural activity is increasing agri-production costs, not MGNREGA.

Assets produced by MGNREGA are not normally agricultural-related although it was agreed that they are co-related – for example, new roads should make it easier for farmers to access markets.

Some field studies conducted in different regions such as Kerala and the Meghalaya states have widened the scope of MGNREGA to address local needs of the people and it was agreed that contextualisation of MGNREGA is necessary.

MNREGA and democratic decentralisation

MGNREGA relies on rural people demanding work from their local Gram Panchayat (village council).

The first session on Day 2 discussed the need to strengthen this democratic decentralisation by helping to build the capacities of local institutions such as Panchayats and increasing their accountability to improve the functioning of MGNREGA.

It was agreed that, whilst MGNREGA is nominally an employment scheme, it is also a welfare scheme – ensuring that the poorest of the poor are able to avail jobs to ensure their food security. Democratic decentralisation is an important part of ensuring that those who need it the most are able to come together and ask for work in a rights-based manner.

Working together

The final session was an open session on the interface between NGOs, bureaucracy, media and academics.

It was discussed that there are many people involved in implementation of MGNREGA - policy makers, bureaucrats, academics, NGOs and the media - and it was again emphasised that rumours and wrong information among common people about MGNREGA is hampering its effectiveness.

Overall, it was agreed that despite the malfunctioning and corruption at several levels, MGNREGA has been successful in its objectives to avail rights-based rural employment and creation of productive assets in village development process.

But it was also agreed that we need to work together to strengthen the right flow of information to villages and strengthen village institutions such as Panchayats to improve the institutional implementation of MGNREGA.

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