International Seminar on Rural Poverty - Key Initiatives in Achieving Millennium Development Goals and the Role of NREGA

22 Jan 2009

Date: 22 January, 2009

Venue: New Delhi

India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which assures livelihood security to the most marginalized sections of society, is accelerating the country’s march towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals, experts said at a two-day-long International Seminar on Rural Poverty that ended today.

Taking stock of the challenges and achievements of the act that guarantees up to 100 days paid unskilled labour per household annually, speakers hailed the legislation that was passed three-years-ago as path-breaking and unique.

Dr. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Minister for Rural Development, Government of India, said: “The NREGA has generated over 3.5 billion days of work with translates into Rs. 3.5 billion, reaching an average of 30 million families, annually. He projected that adequate promotion and effective implementation of the legislation will enable India to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halfing the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day by 2015.

"The Right to employment is a paradigm shift from earlier programmes," Dr. Singh said, adding that the scheme has initiated an increase of minimum wages across the country and the average daily wage rate of agricultural labourers under NREGA has risen from Rs. 65 in 2006 to Rs. 83 in 2008.

The programme is implemented in all 615 rural districts of the country and has particularly benefited the most marginalized. In 2008, women represented 49 percent of the work force, and 55 percent was Schedule Tribes and Schedule Castes. Women are also encouraged to work at equal pay.

Aruna Roy, a social activist participating in the forum, said, "NREGA has drawn in all of us together. It has created a real debate on the role of people as participants in their own development, giving people the power to prioritize their needs and demand them from the local government institution. The important sign of a mature democracy is to provide the poor with the right to demand, the right to know and the right to dignity. Not the right to beg".

“Poverty is a sin in the 21st century when opulence has reached unprecedented levels,” said internationally renowned scientist, Dr. R. K. Pachauri, speaking at the inauguration. Dr. Pachauri added that creating knowledge is critical to influencing the development of thousands of lives.

More than 200 eminent researchers, academics and development practitioners from across India and countries including Brasil, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Paraguay, South Africa, Turkey, UK, USA and Viet Nam, gathered for a two day seminar to share lessons learned and signal new ideas to ‘Make Poverty History’.

“By guaranteeing up to 100 days paid unskilled labour per household, the rights-based scheme not only generates work opportunities, but also creates the vital infrastructure and community resources needed to revive village economies through tasks like water harvesting and afforestation,” a representative of the United Nations Development Programme said.

Amongst some of the key issues raised during the discussions were: the need to improve convergence of the programme with other key development initiatives; the importance of considering NREGA’s multiplier effects; the challenges of assessing and providing adequate skill building support to the workers; as well as innovative ways of taking the programme to the next level. The seminar was organised by the Ministry of Rural Development with technical support of UNDP, which is a key partner of the government.