The 3rd Annual Meeting of the Consortium was held during 13-14 October, 2009 in New Delhi. The main event of this day was the release of the first report of the Consortium by the Union Minister for Rural Development, Dr. C.P. Joshi.
On the 14th, the First Annual Report of the Consortium was released to the nation in a special function by Dr. C.P. Joshi, Minister for Rural Development, GoI. Shri Nandan Nilekani, Chairperson, Unique Identification Authority of India, was the Guest of Honour. Participants had the opportunity to interact with Dr. Joshi and Shri Nilekani on a host of issues relating to NREGA and the UID.
On the 13th the meeting was held at the Sri Aurobindo Society Auditorium. On the 14th, the meeting continued at Gulmohar, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. Both days saw presentations led by different consortium members on a wide variety of themes and issues relating to NREGA. The presentations were followed by very rich discussions on the themes.
On the 14th, Pramathesh Ambasta, National Coordinator of the Consortium made a presentation giving highlights of the Consortium’s work. He detailed out the spread of the consortium and its emphasis on partnerships with a wide variety of stakeholders which had made its work very successful in a short span of time. The presentation also summarized the main recommendations of the report as being:
- need for a dedicated team of human resources, to be placed for at the level of a cluster of villages. About 15 villages could form a cluster which would be an intermediate layer between the block and the Gram Panchayat (though not an elected layer). This would give the necessary capacity to the GP to implement NREGA
- The MIS needs to be overhauled to make it real time and online to enable better monitoring by those who are reviewing the programme and to make possible faster access by wage-seekers
- A dedicated management structure such as the National Authority on NREGA should be set up at the national level to anchor the schemes under the Act
- Experiences of civil society need to be harnessed by ensuring a formal space for its participation in NREGA,
Shri Nandan Nilekani said in his address that the NREGA is the single largest programme of the government and is also number one on the priority list of the UIDAI. He said that the UID will benefit NREGA in two ways – in the work created under NREGA and in wage payments. He further expressed the view that Pramathesh Ambasta’s presentation, had brought out the need and the implications of a real time and online system very well and this will be strengthened by the UID. The entire NREGA process can be visualized as an ERP or SAP system in the cloud with the UID at its backend. The authentication system based on the UID at not much cost. The other important thing that UID can enable is speedy wage payments. While NREGA has made wage payments mandatory, how will the bank accounts be opened and how will the banking system reach the poor? In the first process the UID will be of great benefit. For the second process, a system of business correspondents (BC) can be set up who go to make payments door-to-door. This BC based wage disbursement model can benefit greatly through the UID. The BC could operate a handheld device for authentication via UID and the beneficiary’s bank account could be debited. Both the BC and the beneficiary could authenticate against the UID database through the device to certify that the transaction has indeed taken place. In order to cover all 60 million job card holders, there needs to be a national inter-operable system. This too is made feasible by the UID. He assured the Minister of the UIDAI’s fullest cooperation towards strengthening NREGA.
Dr. C.P. Joshi in his address said that NREGA is an opportunity for empowerment and governance reform at the grassroots. He further said that we are living in a time when the advantages of Information Technology have started becoming apparent. Interventions such as the UID number will help in better delivery of benefits to the rural poor. He said that the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) had further opend up avenues for skilled work and for people to graduate from unskilled to semi-skilled and skilled work. While the SHG movement had seen success in the south, large parts in north India needed to adopt it successfully as well. He said that we need to look at the Human Development Index as the major indicator of development in the rural areas. Dr. Joshi expressed some reservation about the cluster level team mentioned in the presentation by Pramathesh Ambasta, National Coordinator. He said that the constitution allows for a three-tier structre which we need to adhere to. Finally, the Minister thanked Dr. Mihir Shah and his team for the effort they had put in to make NREGA a success.
Dr. Mihir Shah said that the cluster level team talked about in the presentation was about placing a dedicated implementation for NREGA team betwen the block and the panchayat level, which is the cutting edge of implementation, not about introducing another elected layer between the block and the gram panchayat.