The National Consortium of Civil Society Organizations on MGNREGA organized a state level consultation on MGNREGA in Madhya Pradesh: Opportunities and Challenges at Bhopal on the 18th of April in collaboration with the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme. The consultation aimed to bring together civil society, state and central governments to chart out a road map for strengthening MGNREGA in the state.
The consultation was held at the Noor Us Sabah Palace Hotel at Bhopal. Shri Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh was the Chief Guest. Dr. Mihir Shah, Member, Planning Commission, Government of India, was the Guest of Honor. Around 100 participants gathered for this meeting drawn from civil society, state and central governments.
The trigger for the consultation was the fact that in MP person-days in MGNREGA have started tapering off over the past 3 years and so has SC/ST participation in MGNREGA. While there may be reason to believe that in a small part this tapering off could arise because of genuine withdrawal from the labour market of those whose liveilhoods had been taken care of by MGNREGA, this could not be perceived to be a universal phenomenon and may perhaps be pointing more towards some systemic failures. If so what could be done? And what role could civil society play in this?
The consultation started off after the arrival of the CM around 1100 hrs. It began with a brief presentation by Pramathesh Ambata of SPS on the consortium, its perspective and achievements. Dr. Mihir Shah, in his address, began by congratulating the MP government for the initiatives it had taken on MGNREGA. He spoke about the Electronic Fund Management System initiated by Government of India, which is geared towards taking care of delays in fund transfers by replacing a “credit-push” based system with a “debit-pull” one. He also emphasised the fact that MGNREGA’s impact on agricultural productivity held the key to rural transformation and spoke about the addition to the permissible activities under MGNREGA which the new guidelines enabled. He also said that the Gram Sabha on the 15th August should be used to inform the village about the MGNREGA plans which will help in combating migration. He said that the real success of MGNREGA lies in its become redundant over time, having done its job. Mihir emphasised partnership and dialogue between state government and civil society.
Ms. Aruna Sharma (Principal Secretary, Rural Development, Government of Madhya Pradesh) made a presentation on the achievements of MP and the challenges facing MGNREGA. She said that a part of the withdrawal of MGNREGA workers from the workforce in Madhya Pradesh was explained by the fact that assets had been created under MGNREGA schemes such as Kapildhara (a GoMP scheme for construction of dugwells leveraging MGNREGA funds). She highlighted the achievements of GoMP in convergence of schemes with MGNREGA which is perhaps the best example of such convergence models anywhere in India. However, she admitted that there was room for concern since there has been a fall in demand for work. This could itself be explained by a variety of factors including delayed payments, human resources and so on. She outlined several steps (including increasing human resource deployment, increased bank penetration in rural areas through more bank branches etc.) which GoMP is proposing to take to streamline the system.
The Chief Minister, Shri Shivraj Singh Chauhan then gave his inaugural address. He called Dr. Mihir Shah a person of “creative mind” and “positive thinking”. He said that there have been great strides made by MP under MGNREGA and some part of the perceived decline in demand for work could be traced to these initiatives. However, he felt that while we in government tend to pride ourselves in double digit growth, this growth will have no meaning until its benefits flow to the poorest of the poor. It is here that there is absolutely no question about the need for MGNREGA, no matter what its critics may say. A matter of concern which may actually be putting people off seeking work under MGNREGA is delays in wage payments, and even after payments are made, delays in accessing these through banks which are normally very far from villages where people live, especially in tribal areas. He pointed out that civil society intervention is very important. But civil society should take an approach of solving problems in a spirit of dialogue rather than pointing out how bad things are.