Thursday, 29 May 2014

Women and Political Participation in India

Photo Source: International Business Times

The nature of society and state has a decisive impact on the extent and effectiveness of women’s political presence and participation. Notions of democracy, governance and the state are often not gender neutral constructs but are a cumulative result of both historical factors and experiences. The state and its organizational entities reflect the same social forces as other social organizations.

In India, where women constitute half the population the number of women parliamentarians has never exceeded fifteen per cent of all seats. At the state level, their membership in the legislatures is abysmally low, lower than their numbers in the parliament. In the recently concluded 16th Lok Sabha elections, 61 women candidates won, which is by far the highest number of women who will have a seat in the Indian Parliament.  However, the representation of women in Indian political institutions remains low which signifies deep flaws in India’s political democracy.

Demand for greater political representation of women in India

The demand for greater representation of women in political institutions in India was not taken up in a systematic way until the setting up of the Committee on the Status of Women in India (CSWI) in 1976. Before this the focus of the growing women's movement had been only on improving women's socio-economic position. In 1988, the National Perspective Plan for Women suggested that a 30 per cent quota for women be introduced at all levels of elective bodies. Introduced first by the Deve Gowda Government in 1996 the women's reservation bill- which proposes to reserve 33 per cent of seats in Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies for women has been stuck in legislation for the last 18 years.

Despite the lament of leaders like Sonia Gandhi and efforts by successive governments to push the bill, the bill could be passed only in the Rajya Sabha on 9 March, 2010 and the Lok Sabha is yet to muster the courage or consensus to do the same.

Forms of reservation for women in other countries

While India has been unable to translate the bill into legislation, women reservation in various forms have been introduced in a number of other countries. Data from International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), Stockholm, 2014, shows that an increasing number of countries are introducing different types of gender quotas for public elections. Currently 97 countries apply constitutional, electoral or political party gender quotas. Considering a number of nations across Asia and Africa, one can see that in the early 1990s countries like Philippines, Pakistan and Bangladesh legislated quotas for female representatives, ranging from 10 to 35 per cent of seats. (Quota Project, International IDEA, Stockholm University and Inter- Parliamentary Union)

The most common forms of reservation are quotas, either in the number of seats reserved for women or the setting of a minimum share for women on the candidate lists for elections. While setting a quota in seats regulates the number of women getting elected to the parliament, establishing a minimum share in the candidates list can either be a legal requirement or be written into the statutes of individual political parties.

An analysis of the trend of women representation in Indian Legislature speaks volumes of their significant under-representation in political institutions in the country. In the 15th Lok Sabha, only 10 per cent of the total elected parliamentarians (59 of the 543 seats) were women. Of the 8070 of the total candidates who contested elections, only 6.9 per cent candidates were women.

Participation of women in the 16th Lok Sabha Elections:

  •       The 16th Lok Sabha has seen the highest number of women contesting elections since the 1957. Out of the total 8,136 candidates, 668 were women, viz. 8.21 percent of the total candidates. This is an increase of more than one per cent from the 2009 general election figure.

  •       Interestingly, the success rate of women in the 16th Lok Sabha elections is in fact better than that of male candidates. In the 16th Lok Sabha elections, 61 women candidates out of 668 (i.e. 9.13 per cent of the total women candidates) got elected to the Lok Sabha. While for the male candidates, the success percentage was only 6.36 per cent (Of the 7,578 men who contested the polls, 482 emerged victorious).
In terms of states performance, the interesting change was noted in West Bengal, where the number of women winning has doubled. It now stands at 14 of 42 candidates from the state. This is followed by Uttar Pradesh, with 13 seats, which does not show any change since 2009.

The global experimentation with different forms of women’s reservations provides valuable lessons for India both inspirational and an early warning, regardless of the passage of the bill here.India ranks 113, much below Pakistan (at rank 72) and South Africa (at rank 5) in terms of percentage of women in the Lower as well as Upper House/the Senate.

Unpreparedness of Indian political parties

The vision and mission of several Indian political parties reveal an inclination to increase women participation among their rank and file. However, the challenge among Indian political parties is that such rules/constitutions are seldom followed.

  •       According to the Constitution of the INC, 33 percent of the seats in different Committees, 33 percent of members of the Executive Committees, and 33 percent of the seats for the All India Congress Committee (AICC) are to be reserved for women
  •       Similarly, Rule 9 of the Trinamool Congress’s constitution reserves 33 percent of seats in  different committees for women.

  •       Even the newly formed Aam Aadmi Party has a ruling that 7 of the 30 members in its highest executive body be women.
This shows that Political parties, collectively, have not been able to meet their decided benchmarks to ensure women participation.

South African experience: strong positive externalities

With women comprising 44.8 percent of its current National Assembly, South Africa serves as an excellent example of a successful experiment with voluntary party quotas.The African National Congress (ANC) started discussions on quotas for women since 1991 and presently the National Assembly of South Africa has 43.5 percent women. The ANC’s voluntary quota for women also had significant positive externalities on the opposition parties. While the opposition parties did not commit themselves to quotas, the ANC’s quotas had a spillover effect, leading to an increase in the proportion of women in opposition parties from 14.2 percent in 1994, to an impressive 31 percent in 2009. The South African experience demonstrates, even a single party setting voluntary quotas can have widespread positive effects on a country’s political environment as whole. It also underscores the importance of women’s movements within parties.

A Brookings India working paper “Women in Party Politics (April 2014) by S Ravi and R. Sandhu suggests that a few measures, if applied with commitment, can bring about a favourable change in the current scenario.

  •       Parties need to evolve internally to facilitate a greater culture of inclusiveness and operational democracy, for example, measures like internal party quotas.

  •       The Election Commission of India too can play a pivotal role by holding parties accountable for their stated rules and promises in their Constitutions and manifestos.
  •       The paper also stresses that there are strong lessons, which can help improve the design and implementation of quotas for women, and therefore, result in better female representation in Indian politics.

According to S Ravi and R. Sandhu, “In almost all political systems, no matter what electoral regime, it is the political parties, not the voters that constitute the real gatekeepers to elected offices.” Such fundamental reforms at any party level are suggested to serve as necessary and strategic complements to the Women’s Reservation Bill.  This can ensure that the enactment of Women’s Reservation Bill will not result in mere tokenism.

Compiled by Junty Sharma Pathak and Mahima Malik

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Urbanisation Trend in India and its Policy Challenges

Photo Source: Ace Geography
Global evidence, especially from developed nations, indicates that industrialisation and urbanisation accompany each other (Bairoch 1988). It was expected that the 1991 liberalization reforms, by paving way for greater industrialization, would trigger urbanisation in India just like the 1980 reforms did in China. However, India’s urbanisation post liberalization has been termed as below normally ‘expected’. This could partly be attributed to the rise of high-tech and specialised industries in metropolitan cities that were labour-light as against the expected growth of labour intensive manufacturing sector.

However, post 2001 India witnessed greater private investment in areas such as industries, information technology, services sector and infrastructure. This has been reflected in rising share in non-agricultural industries in the GDP since 2001. The increased investment largely flowed into urban areas and triggered the much delayed urbanization phenomenon. This has added 90 million people to India’s urban areas in 2011 over last decade. (Census 2011, 2001 report). A McKinsey Report (2010) on India’s urbanisation prospects  projects that during the period 2010-2030, urban India will create 70 percent of all new jobs in India. The labour-intensive manufacturing, construction, and services are further expected to drive greater migration to India’s urban areas as per various projections (HPEC Report). Population estimates show that another 55 million will be added to India’s urban areas by 2021 and another 100 million by 2026. At this pace, India’s urban population will exceed its rural population by 2045.

These statistics highlight that India is at a critical juncture where its traditionally rural characteristic, best captured by Gandhi’s observation “true India lies in its seven lakh villages”, is set to undergo a historic transformation. This rapid urbanisation couldn’t have come at a more crucial time. With 69 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people expected to be between the ages of 15 and 65 by 2035, India needs to create enough productive employment opportunities to reap the benefits of this demographic windfall. World over, urban areas tend to be invariably more productive due to economies of agglomerations. In line with this trend, McKinsey’s report not only estimated that Urban India will create 70 percent of all new jobs but also that these jobs would be twice as productive when compared to rural employment opportunities. With urbanization poised to play a crucial role in India’s growth it is imperative that policy makers and urban planners embrace this phenomenon by gearing policies towards accommodating and facilitating this transformation with proper social protection and due rights to its people.
Contemporary Challenges
India so far fares poorly in most of the elements of a successful urban development strategy including land use, affordable housing, transportation, access to basic services like water and sanitation and social security. The following sub-section delve into policy distortions that are hindering economic and spatial transformation in India.
Urban Housing

Restrictive land use policy and high property prices have given rise to ‘shelter poverty’ in the form of slum and pavement dwellers. One estimate (World Bank Report)) suggests that 25 percent of urban population in India resides in slums and the figure escalates to a staggering 54 percent for Greater Mumbai. As cities expand, policymakers need to develop an inclusive urban design which provides low income housing to economically weaker sections (EWS) of society. Related to this is the problem of rigid land use policy. Floor Space Index (FSI) limits in India have historically been set way below international standards thus hindering urban densification and making the process of urban expansion expensive. In actual practise low FSI restrictions also encourage illegal construction. Thus current land use policies fail to reflect market realities and socio-economic demands.

Easy mobility and an efficient transport system are essential for successful urbanisation. From 1951 to 2004, road network had expanded only 8 times while vehicle numbers have increased by 100 times. Thus limited road carrying capacity has increased journey times in India’s mega cities by more than 30 percent compared to smaller cities (World Bank 2013). Further, public transportation which is the only form of mobility for the poor accounts for a mere 22 percent of the urban transport system; a figure much below the average 40 - 50 percent observed in other middle income countries (World Bank 2013). Public transportation in Indian cities is also one of the most unaffordable in the world with Mumbai’s cost being twice of London and five times that of New York.

To make cities liveable it is essential that they be clean and have reliable water supply. In Indian cities, it is a common sight to see slum dwellers stand in long queues to fill buckets of water whenever there is intermittent water supply; this involves an economic trade-off between going to work and accessing an essential necessity like water which the poor cannot afford. Further, poor waste water management leads to an annual expenditure of nearly $15 billion to treat water-borne diseases (CII and CEEW 2010).
Urban areas by their very nature of large population and high density are susceptible to adverse effects of poor sanitary conditions. According to the HPEC report nearly 50 million people in urban India are forced to defecate in the open due to a combination of poor sewerage network, shortage of public toilets and lack of running water in toilets. Further, there are spatial disparities in access to services such as drainage and sewerage which tend to worsen as one moves towards the suburbs and as the size of the city reduces.
The 74th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 led to decentralization of powers through the constitution of urban local bodies (ULBs) as ‘institutions of self-government’. This was aimed at strengthening urban service delivery. However, in practice, this decentralization has not progressed as envisaged. ULBs are plagued by partial devolution of power, inadequate finances and limited capacity.
The Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) of 2005 which was supposed to be a game changer for pan India urban development has failed to implement many infrastructure projects because of abysmal capacity of personnel at local government level in preparing and implementing projects (Planning Commission). Also, funds released under JNNURM show insignificant correlation to poverty levels in a city in addition to a bias towards big cities (Kundu and Samanta, 2012).

Safety and Security
     Cities that attract economic power and foster growth also spawn crime, violence & and an overall sense of insecurity. Today’s cities face a wide spectrum of threats ranging from terrorism to rising crime rates, civil unrests, shootings, natural disasters and other emergencies. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the rate of incidences of crime (cognizable offenses under IPC) has seen a major upward trend. Foremost among these is rape, the number of incidences of which has risen by 873% since 1953. It is followed by kidnapping and abduction (749%) and murder (250%). The impetus for urban growth will depend much upon India’s ability to sustain its homeland security.
To prove well prepared against these threats there is growing demand for cities to be equipped with new and emerging technologies that can ensure safe and secure cities. Security experts propose that government strategies need to move beyond enhancing its defence preparedness against crimes and acts of terror to provide integrated public security infrastructure solutions which should include real time visual, audio and location-based information.

 Strengthening Policy Making Processes and Outcome

Remarkably, India has not updated its definition of “urban” in 50 years leading to a downward bias on India’s urban statistics. Therefore even though some areas might display urban features, the stringent definition of “urban” would exclude these settlements from urban statistics, hindering the integration of fast expanding peri-urban areas through good urban planning (World Bank 2011). Further, the data pool on housing is characterised by poor timeliness, coverage and inaccuracy; this has serious implications for making effective policies and fund disbursement.

Indian cities and towns lack basic amenities and services because the paradigm of urban planning in India has mostly focused on providing investment and infrastructure without adequately addressing concerns of governance and service delivery. The institution of urban governance is compromised by multiplicity of agencies, fragmented and often overlapping authority without adequate coordination and lack of accountability. Undoubtedly, urban governance needs major policy reforms.

As urban population is likely to increase by at least 250 million by 2030, it is expected that the number of urban poor will rise too (Planning Commission). Modern planning has failed to include the concerns of the poor who provide much needed unskilled and semi-skilled services to support skill based activity and capital. The process of urban planning must be inclusive and cater to housing and transport needs of the poor and not just be a technical and dehumanized exercise in urban design. Such an exercise must reflect the voice of all the affected stakeholders in an urban setting.

Twenty first century India is increasingly marked by inequality, political unrest and environmental degradation. Considering contemporary challenges the objective of Indian urban policy must be redefined to help cities steer towards economically, socially, politically and environmentally sustainable and not just be limited to mere provision of public services and infrastructure.

The process of framing urban policy in India so far has adapted a top down approach despite laws contrary to that. It does not have a mechanism to involve the voice of stakeholders in its formulation. In addition to this democratic-deficit, India’s approach towards urban policy is characterised by a failure to make use of sound statistical and scientific evidence. These factors combined with less than robust implementation mechanisms and weak accountability structures have resulted in nearly a complete breakdown in the functioning of Indian cities. Reforming and strengthening the foundation of urban policy making process will foster formulation of comprehensive urban policies capable of nurturing inclusive progress.

In its ‘Approach to the 12th five year plan’ the Planning Commission of India said, “it took nearly forty years (1978 to 2008) for India’s urban population to rise by 230 million. It could take only half the time to add the next 250 million. If not well managed, this inevitable increase in India’s urban population will lead to an implosion of urban infrastructural systems”. Undoubtedly, this is a challenge that cannot be ignored at policy level.
Karishma Mutreja

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Nation Builders' thoughts on Skilling Poor People

Photo Source : UNDP
Advancing civilization through the democratic form of governance system brings formidable social changes by the people, of the people and for the people to become more civilized in terms of achieving peace, progress and prosperity in the society. One of the key elements which play vital role to bring social changes in poor people’s life- quite drastically- is the skills acquired to do things which earn anything and everything that they want. In other words, skilling has become an important aspect of human capital building in the last decade. India has huge potential for becoming a world of human capital through skill building.

Towards the goal of achieving social changes mainly by skilling poor people has been a major thrust of many of our nation builders in India especially from Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi, and others. Indeed, all of them had very strong perspective thoughts on skilling poor people that play greater differences in their life in society. An attempt has been made in this article to bring the thoughts of the two great sons of India whose visions are eternal in some ways at least in skilling people.

The conventional wisdom was that if anyone is able to understand, speak and write about something simple form in a language becomes literate in society. But the twenty-first century wisdom of literate or skilled human resource has become quite different as the world of science and technology has changed steadily. What is quite interesting is that the nation builders who had views on skilling poor people which are of the twenty-first century perspective.

The father of the nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had expressed number of times through his perspective writings about the importance of skilling poor people for highly productive works in employment. Gandhi said that “Literacy is not the end of education nor even the beginning. It is only one of the means whereby man and woman can be educated. Literacy in itself is no education. I would therefore begin the child’s education by teaching it a useful handicraft and enabling it to pro- duce from the moment it begins its training (1948).”

With regard to the skilling of villagers, Gandhi said, “Without the basic training the villagers are being starved for education (Harijan, 28-4-1946)”. He further said that we need to “develop such a high degree of skill that articles prepared by them should command a ready market outside. When our villages are fully developed there will be no dearth in them of men with a high degree of skill and artistic talent. There will be village poets, village artists, village architects, linguists and research workers (Harijan, 10-11-1946)”.

In fact, Gandhi’s thoughts on skilling people were universal and much beyond the improving of villages. He said that “A mason can build a village house, but it requires an engineer to plan and build a big building or a big dam. Much more talent, knowledge, application and research are required to improve the village implements than to build a bridge on the Ganga. When we are able to attract people of this type by our renunciation and methodical research, we will be able to make rapid far-reaching progress, not till then (Khadi Jagat, 25-7-1941)”.

Similarly, Rajiv Gandhi was one of early Indian politicians to talk about the fruits of India’s demographic dividend from the perspective of the twenty-first century. Indeed, he foresaw the imperatives of skilling poor and young people and institutionalizing the training system. Speaking in 1988, he said, "we are one of the world's oldest civilizations and one of the youngest nations. Our country's demographic profile has undergone a major revolution. Now, there is a preponderance of youth. This is a decisive factor in determining our nation's destiny."  He also quite vividly envisaged that “Training and education do not end when you leave college. It is a continuing process. You keep learning as you keep working.”

Currently India is striving for building up of mass manufacturing hubs in the country with the focus of establishing large infrastructure development to support economic activities of production and services. It is very much pertinent to remember what Rajiv Gandhi said two decades ago about skilling people for the revolution of information and communication technology.

He had said that “To get electronics really moving in India, we have to go down to the other end of the chain. We are mostly talking about manufacturing and selling. We have to go to the other end and produce enough people who will be able to deal with the equipment that you are about to produce, which means a turn-around in our education system. We need many more institutes such as the ITIs, but oriented and run in a much more professional manner, oriented towards more modern fields of technology. We need to really develop a mentality in our people of using modem methods.”

In fact, during the last ten years (2004-2014) the UPA government’s initiatives on skill development were actually to implement the Rajiv’s visions of modernizing the Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) into a Centre’s of Excellences. There was 1,896 government ITIs in the country when the UPA took over in 2004-05. Two schemes (upgradation of 100 government ITIs through Domestic Funding and upgradation of 400 government ITIs with World Bank Funding) were implemented to upgrade the existing government ITIs into Centre’s of Excellences. Remaining 1,396 government ITIs were undertaken part of the scheme called Upgradation of 1,396 government ITIs into Public Private Partnership Mode for converting them into CoEs. All of them were achieved by 2014 with greater improvements in the skilling systems in the country.


1.      Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume 80: Dec 28, 1940 - Aug 17, 1941

2.      Rajiv Gandhi’s Speech on “Electronics for Progress”,

3.      Foundation Day Lecture by the President of India, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil at the Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development, Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, 01-September-2007

4.      Rajiv Gandhi’s Speech on Revamping the Educational System


Monday, 12 May 2014

Conditional Cash Transfer for Empowerment of Girl Child in Haryana

Haryana has been witnessing a steady decline in the sex ratio over the past three decades. Matters worsened with Haryana showing the lowest child sex ratio (0-6 years) in India (Census 2011). However, the 2011 Census data shows that in spite of worst sex ratio, Haryana has improved its child sex ratio in the last decade by 15 points from 819 girls per 1000 boys in 2001 to 834 girls per 1000 boys in 2011. In the last two decades, Haryana has initiated and implemented several policies to increase the value of girl child among communities and to change community’s attitude towards girl child.  One of the strategies in this line adopted by the Haryana state has been to provide financial incentive to girl child to ensure birth and development of girl child.
Haryana was the first to initiate a conditional cash transfer scheme for the girl child. This scheme was called Apani Beti Apna Dhan (ABAD) in 1994, which operated between 1994-1998, aimed to enhance the value of girls. Under this scheme poor households and disadvantaged caste groups, were offered a saving bond of Rs.2500 in the name of the daughter which was redeemable at a maturity value of Rs.25,000 when the girl turned 18, provided the girl was not married. Impact evaluations study of the scheme by Sinha and Yoong (2010) using NFHS data of three rounds found that the scheme had positive implications on girls’ birth and survival. However, the scheme had inconclusive effects on mothers’ preferences for a girl child. The first batch of ABAD beneficiary will turn 18 in 2014 and will be able to cash in their bond. Another evaluation of the scheme by Nanda et. al (2014) in its preliminary finding reveals that the scheme helped beneficiary girl to stay in school for longer time. According to the study “A larger proportion of girls who were part of the program (beneficiaries) remained in school than those who were not (non-beneficiaries)”.
Both the studies mentioned above have shown positive impacts of the schemes on development of beneficiary girls. But what is not clear from both the studies is whether it has improved social mindset towards girl child and whether it has contributed to an increase in the number of births of girl child. In addition to the ABAD scheme the Haryana government introduced a similar new scheme called Ladli in 2005 aiming to combat the menace of gender biased sex selection. The conditions of the Ladli scheme are such that it encourages families to have two daughters and assures a bond of Rs.25,000 which at the time of maturity (after attaining 18 years of the age of second girl child in family) becomes approximately Rs. 96,000. Since its inception 183,069 families have been included in the Ladli Scheme and so far the state government has invested Rs. 254.82 crores under the scheme (GoH, 2013).  Impact of the scheme against its expectations is a matter of study but the recent Census data gives hope of improvement.
Other than these two specific schemes to reverse declining sex ratio, Haryana government has been implementing various incentive based schemes for the development of girl child. Monthly stipend is given to school going girls of socially and economically disadvantaged sections under various schemes. Normally stipend amount is higher for girls as compared to boys in such schemes. Education is one the important indicator of empowerment and it remained core condition of every kind of conditional cash transfer schemes for girl child in Haryana.
School Education Data indicates that though there is marginal increase in girls’ enrolment in secondary schools in Haryana but the dropout rate of girls has decreased substantially. For Class I-X, the girl’s dropout rate decreased from 39.15 in 2007-08 to 16 in 2010-11. The retention of scheduled caste girls in school has improved much faster in this period. The dropout rate of scheduled caste girl students of Class I-X has decreased from 63.93 in 2007-08 to 16.4 in 2010-11 (MoHRD, GoI). The educational indicators are evident that survived girl children’s conditions are improving faster in Haryana. With improved health service delivery in the state, the survival rate of girl children has also increased in last one decade. According to Sample Registration System, female Infant Mortality Rate of Haryana has decreased from 70 in 2001 to 44 in 2012.  
Thus, the recent history of public policy interventions in Haryana to empower women and girl child resulted in improved social conditions. The social indicators for girls such as education, health, immunization, survival and fertility have improved in last one decade and  various studies in Haryana have attributed this change to both, conditional cash transfer schemes and other policy interventions. The larger goal of the conditional cash transfer scheme such as ABAD and Ladli is to influence social and cultural values of individual and community and hence end gender discrimination. There are no evidences and studies to claim that such policies are influencing human values and helping girls to have higher status in the society. Declining sex ratio is the outcome of complex social, religious, cultural and structural arrangements in our society. Any policy intervention to address this issue needs to be carefully designed and implemented. Thus, possibly greater involvement of people is required in policy planning and implementation to alter prevalent gender biased practices. It is high time to review such conditional cash transfer schemes to understand their impact in changing gender biased mindset of society.
Jeet Singh

India’s Development Outcomes through Right-Based Policy Initiatives : Case of MGNREGA

Photo Source: Ministry of Rural Development, GOI
There has been a paradigm shift in the development outcomes of Indian states in post 2005-06 period with many of the backward states performing better than earlier. Thus Bihar, Odisha, Assam, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and to some extent Uttar Pradesh, have demonstrated improvement in socio-economic performance. This was largely possible due to various right-based and redistributive policy initiatives of UPA government to reduce the gaps between the rich and poor, rural and urban, backward and advance regions, and to achieve a better development outcome with an inclusive agenda. Bharat Niram Yogona, Indira Awas Yojna, Prime Minister’s Gram Sadak Yojna, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, National Rural Health Mission are some such remarkable policies that India has undertaken in the period of last 10 years to attain development outcomes in infrastructure, poverty alleviation, education and health in a more balanced manner.

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is another such historic anti-poverty policy step that India has laid down in the year 2005, which came in force in 2006. It addresses the issue of India’s massive rural unemployment challenge by creating a right-based framework and guaranteeing 100 days of wage-employment to a rural household, whose adult members volunteer for unskilled manual work. It makes government accountable for providing employment to those who ask for it and guarantees right to employment. In the larger context, it aims at enhancing livelihood security, social protection and capital asset creation to develop long term sustainable model for local and rural economy of India.

MGNREGA began its journey with 200 most distressed districts of India, and within this short span of 7 years time till 2013, it has covered all the 644 districts with a massive expansion across 6576 blocks and 778134 villages. The average wage per day per person is Rs 132.6. The All India minimum average daily wage rates in different occupation in both agricultural and non-agricultural sectors also have gone high substantially. But MGNREGA has ensured to give equal wage to both men and women, which so far was unimaginable in rural India. Such increase in wage rates has helped to boost the consumption pattern in rural India. Thus according to NSSO estimates the rural MPCE has gone high from Rs 579.17 in 2004-05 to Rs 953.05 in 2009-10 and then to Rs 1287.17 in 2011-12. The food expenditure share has gone down to 53%, with 10%, 8%, 6% and 8% in cereal, milk & milk products, vegetables and beverages & processed food. While in non-food category, the share is almost equal for major items like clothing (8%), medical (7%) and education (7%). This is an encouraging scenario reflecting better living standard in rural India. The rural poverty ratio in India has also gone down to 25.70% (2166.58 lakhs persons) in 2011-12 from 33.8% (2782.1 lakhs) in 2009-10 and 42% (3258.1 lakhs) in 2004-05. MGNREGA is the first ever act globally which guarantees employment at an unprecedented scale, touching to 732 lakhs rural population by the year 2013-14. It targets the most vulnerable and marginalized sections where women share almost 50% (351 lakhs), SCs share 23% (167 lakhs) and STs share 18% (129 lakhs) of total employment.

With such scale and coverage, MGNREGA certainly has penetrated the challenge of unemployment in rural India. But while critiquing many are of the opinion that MGNREGA has failed utterly in asset creation and has not optimally achieved the objective to strengthen natural resource management through works that address cases of chronic poverty like drought, deforestation, soil erosion, and to have a long term sustainable development frame. The total sanctioned work under MGNREGA in 2012-13 was 70.50 lakhs, of which only 10.21 lakhs (15%) projects are completed; where works like water conservation constitutes 60%, irrigation 12%, rural connection 17%, land development 8% and rural sanitation 0.22%. It is also being argued that as the scheme targets the unskilled workers, who henceforth do not develop any skill for their future workforce participation. Therefore to make it more useful, the workforce can be exposed to certain skill development programme, which later can be used at least for self-employment opportunities. In terms of financial leakages, it is being argued and verified by CAG reports that there is large scale of misappropriation of MGNREGA funds across some states in India. The states therefore need to be highly vigilant and pro-active as the expenditure of the scheme is incremental. For example in 2012-13, the total fund allocation has gone high to Rs 39735.4 crores from Rs 37072.7 crores in 2011-12 (7% rise by an year) with wage expenditure alone sharing around 75%. There are also serious problems of state-level delivery in wage and employment days, and there exists huge inter-state variation in the performance outcome of MGNREGA. Thus household employment in the year 2012-13 was highest in Tamil Nadu with 64.8 lakhs and lowest in Punjab with 1.7 lakhs. The women share in employment in the same year was 94% in Kerala and 19% in Uttar Pradesh with national average of 53%. Thus both social and financial audits need to be more rigorous and regular along with the role of states at implementation level. Finally to attain optimum development outcome from MGNREGA as one of the most successful right-based employment policies in the world, it may need certain revision at structural level by incorporating more voices of rural India.

Rakhee Bhattacharya

 Data Sources

·         Annual Reports, Ministry of Rural Development, GOI

·         NSSO reports, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, GOI

·         Annual Reports, Ministry of labour, GOI

·         Press Notes, Planning Commission, GOI