The government will hand over the running of the rural job scheme to a nation-wide network of NGOs, sidelining the panchayats and gram sabhas that managed the programme till now.
The official explanation is the “failure of the local-level political system” (sarpanches) in running the UPA’s flagship social programme that is mired in allegations of corruption and inefficiency.
Many NGOs had been monitoring the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme but now they will be virtually in charge and will be paid for their work. The central and state governments do not directly run the scheme — they provide the funds, fix the wages and “measure” (assess and quantify) the work done.
According to a draft note prepared by the rural development ministry, the NGOs will spread awareness about the scheme, train the workforce, monitor the muster rolls and all documents relating to the work done, ensure that grievances are redressed and, finally, evaluate the scheme’s implementation.
The panchayats will be kept in the loop but will no longer be the decision-makers.
The ministry will start the process of selecting the NGOs for the job in a few days, after notifying the new plan.
In the first phase, expected to start in a couple of months, the “NGOisation” will be implemented in 14 states, including Bengal. To start with, the voluntary organisations will be assigned just one district each and only for six months.
Each NGO will be paid Rs 4 lakh for these six months. For this, Rs 15 crore has been set aside in the current financial year.
According to the ministry draft note, the expected benefits of the move are “transparency and accountability (and) efficient grievance redress mechanism”.
“We had entrusted the responsibility of implementing the (scheme) with the village sarpanch,” rural development minister C.P. Joshi said. “But there are so many allegations against the local political representatives…. It is important to stop these manipulations.”
Not everyone is convinced, though.
“With this, the government is planning to give the NGOs the upper hand over elected representatives. It is being done on the wrong assumption that all NGOs are trustworthy. There are good and bad NGOs just as there are good sarpanches and bad sarpanches,” a ministry official said.
He added: “The elected representatives are at least accountable to the public and government but these NGOs are not. Even if they are found culpable, all that the government can do is blacklist them. But the same people can float another NGO in another name.”
A consortium of NGOs, that have so far been monitoring the scheme on their own, has asked the Centre to set up a national authority made up of NGOs to oversee the programme across the country. Their argument: “The largest employment programme in human history requires a separate authority to anchor it.”
“The intervention of NGOs (in the job scheme) has (already) had a dramatic impact on incomes, indebtedness and migration,” said Pramathesh Ambasta of Samaj Pragati Sahayog. He claimed that Rajasthan had witnessed a 175 per cent rise in work demand under the scheme.
A rural development ministry wing, the Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology, will oversee the “NGOisation”.
Later, NGOs will be involved in other major schemes such as the Indira Awas Yojana, Prime Minister’s Gram Sadak Yojana and the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana, officials said.