2 Oct :The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, inaugurated the interactions regarding “Initiative on National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme through State Legal Services Authorities” organized in New Delhi today. Following is the text of the Prime Minister’s remarks on the occasion:
“I am happy that we are having this today’s interaction on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme on this auspicious day on the birth anniversary of Gandhiji. Gandhi ji had great concern for the poor and the under-privileged. Our Government took this historic initiative as a genuine and practical tribute to the famous Talisman Gandhiji gave us. And I would start this address by quoting Mahatma Gandhi:
“Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.”
It is, therefore, befitting that we have gathered on Gandhiji’s birthday to discuss a programme which seeks to smoothen very considerably the harsh edges of extreme poverty in our country. I am delighted that the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India has taken this noble initiative. I admire his commitment to the well-being and welfare of our people and to upholding justice and social equity.
The National Rural Employment Programme is a historic initiative of our Government. Such a social security programme exists nowhere else in the world. I must once again thank the Chairperson of the UPA, Smt. Sonia Gandhi, for thinking of this initiative and suggesting it to our Government. Every working day, she receives the blessings of all those who are benefitting from this massive livelihood support programme. It is our Government’s programme of caring.
As I have often said, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is a path-breaking legislation. It is a landmark in the economic history of our people, in the regime of rights enjoyed by our people, and in our efforts for promotion of social equity and social justice. It entitles our rural poor to guaranteed employment, to a means of sustenance, a means to avert distress, a means to secure two square meals a day, and a means to lift them out of the trap of extreme poverty.
The legal guarantee of 100 days of employment in a year to a rural household is unprecedented. We must realize the difference between a scheme and a programme of guarantee. A scheme is supply driven whereas a guarantee imposes a legal obligation on the State. Focus shifts thereby from outlays and expenditures to ensuring that employment is actually provided where it is most needed. Of course, this has to be tied with works that result in the creation of productive assets. But the focus on employment is clear and there should be no doubt on that.
The beneficiaries of the National Rural Employment Programme are not viewed as passive recipients of Government assistance. They are exercising their right to livelihood security. This is not just a simple income support programme. If properly implemented and sustained, the programme can also help build assets that contribute to sustained growth in rural areas. The centrality given to Panchayati Raj institutions in implementing the Act and the right to demand employment have the potential of strengthening tremendously the grass-root democratic processes in our country.
I am happy that the rural employment guarantee Programme now covers the whole country, all the 614 rural districts. In 2007-08, 3.4 crore rural households benefited from it. In the current fiscal year, up to August 2008, about 95.3 crore person-days of employment have been provided to about 2.7 crore rural households. That the programme is self targeting is evident from the fact of the total beneficiaries so far, about 57% are from the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and 49% are women. We also have evidence that productive works are being undertaken under the programme- nearly 65% of the works taken so far relate to water conservation and land development, which are critical inputs for faster growth of agricultural production and agricultural productivity in our country.
During the three years the Programme has been implemented, the Central Government has released an amount of Rs. 36,000 crore to the States. The State Governments are being encouraged to make payments under the Programme through bank and post office accounts. So far about 3.3 crore such accounts have been opened. Banks and Post Offices are now accessible to the rural poor. This is a step forward in the financial inclusion of the rural poor in a manner never seen before in our country.
I am very happy to see that in many States, the wage earnings of the rural poor have gone up very substantially in a short period of three years. Many States have increased their statutory minimum wages. For example in Maharshtra the statutory minimum wages have gone up from Rs. 47 to Rs. 72, in Uttar Pradesh from Rs. 58 to Rs. 100, and in Bihar from Rs. 68 to Rs. 81. No other initiative of any Government has had such a positive impact on the incomes of the of the poorest people in our country.
However, we cannot rest on our laurels. The fact is that we have a long distance to travel in banishing poverty, in offering sustained livelihood security to all our people. Our Government came to power with this prayer in mind. That we will provide a ‘Government That Cares’. Hence, we are committed to the proper and sustained implementation of this Act and I congratulate my colleague the Minister for Rural Development for the high quality of leadership that he has provided to the country in implementation of this very vital programme of our country.
I would be the first one to admit that performance of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme varies from State to State. Firstly, the need for such a programme itself varies from region to region and from season to season. But, apart from such differences in need, we also see differences in the quality of programme implementation. Some States have shown good results. Some are lagging behind. I urge the States that have been left behind to make all efforts to catch up with the more progressive States. We need to mobilize public opinion in support of proper implementation this Act all over the country plugging all loopholes and leakages which have come to our notice from time to time.
The successful implementation of a programme like the rural employment guarantee depends on a number of factors. First of all – the involvement of local government is an important one of these factors. The panchayat is the best institution to implement National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. We cannot depend entirely on the benevolence or commitment of a few good civil servants. I find that wherever local Government institutions are active, well functioning and manned by committed personalities, the delivery of the programme is much better. It should be our common aim to implement this Programme through the panchayats wherever possible. In States where panchayats are not active or adequately empowered, State Governments must move forward and ensure this.
The faulty design of a programme can result in a situation where it does not deliver. Improving programme design, therefore, is a continuous process. We must therefore put in place a mechanism that rigorously evaluates the rural employment guarantee programme and other such important programmes. The outcome of the evaluation should serve as feed back for improving programme the design of progrramme. Our mechanism for evaluating programmes needs considerable improvement. I have already given instructions for examination of this issue so that we can put in place a credible institutional mechanism, for rigorous and independent evaluation of our flagship schemes.
Given the high levels of illiteracy and the lack of awareness in our country, it is important that the rural poor are made aware of their rights under the programme and also taught how to articulate them and to assert themselves in support of their rights. I am, therefore, happy that the National Legal Services Authority, the State and District level legal services authorities and the High Court Legal Services Committees have decided to work in this direction. The rural poor need to be educated that the programme is not simply supply driven but it grants to them the right to ask, to seek and get guaranteed employment of 100 days. Apart from educating the potential beneficiaries on the broad aspects of the programme, they must also be made aware of the many procedural aspects so that they can’t be exploited or taken advantage of by officials or by contractors. They need to be told, for example, that the cost of the job card that is provided to them and the photograph on it, is covered under the programme. They need to be informed that they must not part with their job cards. They need to be made aware that ten of them can get together and demand employment and that they are entitled to receive their wages within 15 days. They must know that they should have a date of receipt of their application for work so that they can claim unemployment allowance if no work is given to them within 15 days. I have quoted only a few examples. I am sure that there would be many more points on which awareness and education will lead to the empowerment of the rural poor as far as employment is concerned and it will benefit them as intended under the programme. The legal fraternity therefore can play a very important role in proper and effective implementation in this path breaking legislation.
The role of the legal fraternity does not have to be limited to educating the rural poor who can benefit from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme. You can serve a very useful purpose by also educating the officials who implement the programme. You can even create awareness among the public about the employment guarantee. I would also urge you to suggest the ways in which the legal framework of the scheme can be strengthened or improved to make the programme more effective in providing guaranteed employment as its stated objective.
. In conclusion, I would again like say that the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme is a part of national prayer, a pious offering to the Father of Our Nation and in fulfillment of our commitment to banish poverty, ignorance and disease from this ancient land of ours. It is, therefore, the solemn duty of all of us to make it successful. I am sure the legal fraternity can and will make a very important contribution for the successful implementation of this revolutionary Programme. With these words I thank you for giving me a patient hearing.”