Speech of chairman,Administrative Reforms Commission at Bangalore

WORKSHOP ON IMPLEMENTATION OF THE NATIONAL RURAL EMPLOYMENT GUARANTEE ACT

 

At the outset, let me compliment the e-Government Foundation for its efforts in organizing this important workshop. As you are aware, the recently passed NREG Act is “ One of the most important piece of legislation “ in independent India.  This Act stipulates that the State  and Union Territory Governments have to provide 100 days of work to a member of every rural household in a financial year in accordance with the scheme made under this Act.  It is being rolled out in a phased manner with 200 most backward districts, which cover nearly a third of the country, being taken up initially.  It is scheduled for launch in early February this year.  As per the provision of this Act, the States and the Union Territories of India have the main responsibility to design locally relevant schemes under the guidance of the Centre which would generate the employment and create productive assets as envisaged therein. The Act seeks to provide this employment as a guarantee to the citizenry in rural areas through the Panchayati Raj Institutions. The programme entails flow of large resources or a scale not contemplated before, and this costs a huge responsibilities on the States and Union Territories to use this opportunity in a way which finally leads to rural transformation and emergence of the Panchayati Raj Institutions as healthy institutions of social and economic change.

 

            This Act represents a watershed in socio-economic legislation in this country, especially in the context of providing ‘ social security’ measure in rural areas as for the first time, it takes the word “guarantee” as its credo.  This was necessitated by the economic consequences of the agro-climatic vicissitudes of a large part of this vast country having diverse geographic conditions.  About two-thirds of this Country consists of dry and drought prone areas, or area with scanty rainfalls and dependent or only rain-fed agriculture.  This forces local communities to migrate to other parts of the country in search of work which destroys the fabric of the local community and family life, including education of the children, and prevents utilization of human resources at the local level.  On the other hand, it also leads to entrapment of the migrants in a web of exploitative labour marked in the unorganized sector.

 

            The NREGA Act is already a reality.  The challenge before us is towards implementing this Act.  This critical issue was highlighted by the Prime Minister when he said that :

 

            “ Our performance in these 200 districts will yield useful insights and lessons while extending it across the country.  Therefore, the quality of implementation of the Act in its initial phase is of critical importance.  We need to translate the legal commitment of the Act into an effective programme of action that delivers the benefits as guaranteed”.

 

            The implementation process will result in an exercise of massive mobilization of resources and creation of structural mechanism.  Implementing the Act through 2.5 lakhs panchayats will require co-ordinated planning process, streamlined release of funds incessant supervision and hawk-eyed monitoring.  This is keeping in mind that the funds involved in this scheme are estimated to be in the range of Rs.40,000 crores per annum. As visualized under this Act the village Panchayats would play a critical role in implementing this Act.  

 

            Needless to say each level of panchayat will require appropriate technical and administrative assistance so that the flow of funds, delegation of authority and fixing of responsibility can be made transparent and open to social audit.  This is more so, as community participation holds the key to the success of this scheme.  It is felt that information technology has to pay a key role in implementation of this Act especially in providing tools which would enable transparent implementation of this Act at each level of the decision making and also evaluation and monitoring.  We cannot wait till the last village becomes IT enabled before making use of this power tool of modern civilization. No doubt Information Technology has yet not reached out to the villages in any big way. But the spread of rural telephony in past few years leads us to believe that a similar spread in the case of IT enabled services is only round the corner. Anyhow, the process of implementation of this Act has to be initiated in anticipation of this development . Moreover, there is little doubt that IT enabled services have already made their impact at the intermediate tier of Panchayati Raj Institutions. Meanwhile , for the time being, both IT enabled services and manual services can go hand in hand leading to complete computerization at a future date.

 

            I foresee that IT enabled services are going to  play a major role in all the stages of implementation and monitoring of this Act. The implementation of the Act requires meticulous survey of the households in the Gram Panchayats, the registration of the households and the issue of job-cards to the households, the possible matching of household survey with the Election Commission electoral rolls and other forms of IDs, the identification and selection of works at all levels of Panchayati Raj Institutions, the process of approval of the works so selected, the initiation of the work at the requisite level of the Panchayat etc. which would be possible through use of IT enabled services. Similarly, during execution of the work, preparation of muster rolls, payment of wages feeding of bills and vouchers, release of funds, payment to parties etc. would be required which can be accomplished in a transparent way through use of information technology.    

 

            It would be important to have a standardized format which would be applicable at all tiers of panchayats as envisaged in the Act. Such systems will be useful in monitoring the works carried out at the panchayat level and preparation of database giving details of local and regional variations.   This would also result in tracking of employment generated at all levels of panchayats and will be handy in identifying individuals for development of skills in future. 

 

              A key area of implementation pertains to strengthening of the financial management system and its transparency.  It is hoped that IT enabled services would address the monitoring of fund flow in three tier panchayati raj institutions and will also comply to guidelines as prescribed by CAG.  Information Technology will allow the  administrative agencies to monitor the fund receipts, its expenditure and its availability at all the levels of the panchayati raj institutions.   It would also be able to generate a number of reports as and when required and also provide analytical tools with regard to the database. 

 

 

              Such a mammoth scheme is going to generate a large amount of data which would require maintenance and management of the data base at the Gram Panchayat level, the Block level and the District level and its analysis at the Centre and  State level.    This can be and will be accomplished with the help of IT enabled services.   It needs to be pointed out here that the Indian Parliament has also enacted another land mark legislation in the form of the Right to Information Act.  This Act empowers the citizen to call for information from any public authority and requires all public authorities to provide information to them including suo moto disclosure of large body of information. Thus to maintain transparency and to create an environment of responsibility and accountability IT enabled services may be utilized to produce a synergy between both these Acts right to the Gram Panchayat level.   This gives us an opportunity to spread the IT movement to the lowest level of Panchayati Raj institutions i.e., the gram panchayats while implementing the NREGA Act and thus serve the dual purpose of spread of technology and global connectivity at the grass root level.  This would also serve the goals of the movement for Right to Information to the citizenry.

                

            I am looking forward to the deliberations in this two day workshop. I hope we will come up with substantial findings and recommendations, ultimately paving the way for effective and efficient implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.