Guaranteeing Jobs, Building Sustainable Livelihoods

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark watches a demonstration of an information kiosk in the western Indian state of Rajasthan
UNDP Administrator Helen Clark watches a demonstration of an information kiosk in the western Indian state of Rajasthan

The visit of Miss Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to Bhilwara district in the western Indian state of Rajasthan shed light on several critical elements of the pioneering legislation, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

Highlights

  • Support to key implementation challenges in the world’s largest employment guarantee Scheme
  • Technical cell within the Ministry of Rural Development for the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA provides expertise in critical areas such as training, monitoring, data analysis, knowledge sharing, awareness generation, works management and Information Technology. An e-Knowledge network for state and district level officials has been established through which good practices are shared across the country
  • People’s information centre for NREGA workers using biometric technology piloted in Bhilwara, Rajasthan
  • Financial inclusion is furthered through promoting village-based business correspondents and financial literacy classes for workers employed under the world’s largest employment scheme
  • Addressing ”next generation” concerns – in partnership with UNDP, the Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) has launched a two-month handloom training programme for skill development

Guaranteeing Jobs, Building Sustainable Livelihoods

Widely seen as a lifeline for millions in India where close to 320 million live on less than one dollar a day, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (Mahatma Gandhi NREGA) is a pioneering legislation enacted by the Government of India in 2005 that guarantees 100 days employment to any rural household that demands it. The visit of Miss Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to Bhilwara district in the Western Indian state of Rajasthan shed light on several critical elements of this programme including the impact of Mahatma Gandhi NREGA on livelihoods, women’s empowerment, and catalysing innovations supported by UNDP to spur governance, transparency and financial inclusion.

Kandha (Rajasthan): Two years ago Badam Devi, the wife of a struggling farmer from Kandha village in Bhilwara district of the western Indian state of Rajasthan, registered for a job under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP).

With the income earned she was able to ensure that her family of six no longer worries about where the next meal came from when the land does not yield enough in the water-starved village, that the birth of her first grandchild takes place in a well-equipped hospital and her daughter-in-law gets the care that a mother needs.

Earlier this year she welcomed UNDP Administrator Miss Helen Clark, on her first visit to India, into her home as she proudly proclaimed how income from employment under the scheme helped her build two new concrete rooms enabling her to keep her sons and their families under one roof. In Kandha village, NREGP provides employment to virtually all 200 households.
Badam Devi is just one of the many women UNDP Administrator Miss Clark interacted with on her visit to India to witness first-hand the impact of the world’s largest employment guarantee scheme. Worth USD8.5 billion NREGP reaches over 200 million of the poorest in India, 50 percent of who are women.

UNDP in India has played an integral role in supporting the government in implementing NREGP and addressing some of the challenges in implementing this programme, such as poor information among rural poor about entitlements; weak social audit processes, which reduces transparency and accountability; low capacity among communities to plan projects and weak monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. UNDP also commissioned the first early monitoring external studies on NREGP implementation, which form the baseline to measure progress over the years, especially on the outcomes such as employment, wages, working conditions, poverty reduction, gender equity and creation of productive local assets to improve livelihoods.

An NREGP worksite in action

Its 8.00 am and 75 workers, mainly women file into the Dharam pond deepening NREGP worksite to begin the days’ work. In India 49 percent of women are poor and 96 percent are employed in the informal sector. NREGP which stipulates that at least one-third of all recipients must be women is seen as key to empowering women. In Bhilwara, 75 percent of all person days have been allocated to women. The site has been the lifeline of many villagers in Suwarna bloc of Bhilwara district.

The feeling of community is palpable here. Under the watchful eye of the supervisor or ‘mate’ the women spend the day digging the earth to deepen the catchment area for the pond and contribute to the area’s water conservation efforts. Many credit these sites for breaking down caste barriers. Women and men from all castes work side by side and the elderly are allocated easier tasks. A radio blares a community radio programme created especially for NREGP workers under a tent which provides succor from the scorching sun. The provision of shade and crèche facilities for women is another testimony to the humane and gender-sensitive design of the programme. Rekha Devi, who serves water to workers, says, “The site is like the school we never went too. It is a place where we all work together, share our experiences and feel like a community.”

UNDP in India has played an integral role in supporting the government in implementing the scheme and strengthening government capacity through creating a technical cell within the Ministry of Rural Development with expertise in critical areas such as training, monitoring, data analysis, knowledge sharing, awareness generation, works management and Information Technology. It also strengthens the governments’ partnerships with key civil society and academic institutions who track progress and experiment new approaches, providing policy and implementation advice to the ministry. The project has also established an e-Knowledge network for state and district level officials responsible for the implementation of NREGP, through which good practices such as the ‘mate’ system of Rajasthan are shared across the country.

Innovations to spur the next phase

As NREGP continues to gain momentum across the country, several pilot innovations supported by UNDP hope to shape the debate on the next frontier for NREGP – one where empowerment through information and monitoring, financial inclusion and skill development will be the buzzwords.

In collaboration with India’s Ministry of Rural Development, UNDP is addressing some of the challenges in implementing the NREGP and in Bhilwara district UNDP is working with government, non-governmental organisations and professional institutions to initiate pilot projects that leverage NREGP for sustainable development and contribute to the design of ‘NREGP plus’ or an expanded version of the programme to include a broader range of livelihood options and to address other basic needs such as literacy and skill development.

Powered by non-government organisation One World and supported by UNDP, an information portal at the village council office (Panchayat Samiti) in Suwarna bloc provides registered workers information on their employment under the scheme using biometric technology.

Monitoring the world’s largest employment guarantee scheme is by no means an easy task. In Bhilwara alone employment has been provided to over 400,000 households at an expenditure of USD77.43 million. In one room in the Panchayat office, three operators painstakingly enter information on the status of each worker as part of NREGP Management Information System (MIS). The MIS system supported by UNDP tracks workers entitlements, work selection and execution dates, employment demanded and provided and critical financial indicators.

Beyond accessing and tracking information, furthering the agenda of financial inclusion is another key focus of NREGP innovations. Basix, an institution, along with UNDP support is facilitating transactions through village based business correspondents and conducting financial literacy classes at NREGP sites. On a visit to the NREGP worksite in Suwarna, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark watched a demonstration of this unique business correspondent model that pays workers through a mobile phone containing information on 50,000 savings accounts.

NREGP worker old Sukhna Dhobi is the mother of four children and her husband is an alcoholic. “Sitting around at home worrying how to feed the children is difficult. If there was something I could learn, it would be helpful in getting a steady income,” she says. Many families are now thinking of life after 100 days of NREGP. The Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) supported by UNDP has launched a two-month handloom training programme and final products are sold to domestic retail companies. Since the launch of the programme, the income per person per day has more than doubled from Rs. 200 to Rs. 500 (USD 4 to USD 10). As NREGP looks to diversify works, this innovation aims to demonstrate how handloom can be successfully integrated into the programme.

It is hoped that the UNDP supported innovations will spur NREGP to the next phase of creating sustainable livelihoods.

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