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Strengthening the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in India to Foster Participation, Access and Accountability

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

The initiation and countrywide implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) represents a milestone in social policy and employment creation with its right based approach and focus on livelihood security. The flagship program has benefitted millions of marginalized rural households by providing them unskilled work and led to prevention of stress migration from rural areas in lean agricultural seasons. A UNDP/Carnegie Endowment for Peace study points out that from the scheme’s first year of operation in 2006-2007 till 2010-2011, job creation accelerated from less than 1 billion workdays distributed amongst 20 million households to 2.5 billion workdays for 50 million households.
In the above context, the 2013 performance audit conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) should be a timely opportunity to analyze the immense management and convergence challenges that a program of MGNREGA’s size poses. This is especially relevant in view of CAG’s observation that undertaking of non permissible works, non completion of works and lack of creation of durable assets during the period 2007-2012 indicated that the poorest were not able to fully exercise their rights under the program. 

One of the ‘bottom up’ features’ of the program is its reliance on rural local self government structures i.e. Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) to reinvigorate community driven participation and decision making in service delivery.  The first key institutional challenge, therefore, is to make MGNREGA’S program implementation effective by enforcing PRI ‘activity mapping’ (unbundling subjects into smaller units of work and assigning these units to different levels of government) that was set in motion after the historic 73rd Constitutional Amendment, 1993.  Herein, the Central Government and the States of the Union, have to jointly actualize the principle of subsidiarity- what can be best done at lower levels of government should not be centralized at higher levels. Empowering PRIs especially Gram Panchayats (last mile units in villages) with funds, functions and functionaries (3F’s) is a critical incentive to build their institutional capacity for service delivery. This, in turn, would provide them the teeth to carry out their core responsibilities under MGNREGA such as planning of works, registration of beneficiaries, allotting employment, executing works, making timely payments, maintaining records of measurement and muster rolls.

De-coding Gender-based Violence

Anupama Dokeniya's picture

The brutal assault on a young woman in Delhi on December 16 last year, and the protests that followed in its wake spotlighted global attention on the issue of gender-based violence (GBV), a malady that manifests itself in myriad forms across the world – sexual violence, war crimes against women, domestic abuse, domestic violence, just to name a few. The World Bank has recognized the relevance of, and worked on addressing, gender-based violence as an intrinsic element of empowering women as equal partners in development. In the wake of the horrific December 16 incident, the Bank’s Country Partnership Strategy for India, highlighted attention to GBV as a key element of its strategy.

Over the past few months, a number of discussions at the Bank have attempted to investigate and understand the key underlying drivers - sociological, economic, and cultural - that spawn gender-based violence, its impact on welfare and development, and possible approaches to finding solutions. Among them was a panel discussion organized by the Bank-Fund India Club in March that brought together experts from different disciplinary backgrounds: eminent sociologist Alaka Basu, Georgetown University Professor Shareen Joshi, ICF International Fellow Kisrsten Johnson, and World Bank Senior Economist and human rights expert Varun Gauri. Another event, co-sponsored by the Social Development Department in May discussed the experience of prominent NGOs in addressing GBV – in settings as diverse as the South Asian community in New Jersey, and the rural and urban communities of Brazil. The panel included Maneesha Kelkar, former Executive Director of New Jersey-based Manavi, Candyce Rocha, Gender Coordinator at the Brazilian House of Representatives, and Matt Morton, a Social Scientist and gender expert at the Bank. Common themes – on the causes, consequences, and solutions – emerged from the two panels.

A Crucial Step in Fighting Inequality and Discrimination: The Law to Make India’s Private Schools Admit 25% Marginalised Kids

Duncan Green's picture

This guest post comes from Exfam colleague and education activist Swati Narayan 

This summer, India missed the historic deadline to implement the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. This landmark law, the fruit of more than a decade of civil society activism, has many path-breaking clauses. For the first time, it bans schoolteachers from offering private tuition on the side – a rampant conflict of interest. It also legally prohibits corporal punishment.

Most powerfully, it insists that every private school must reserve 25 percent of classroom seats for children from poorer or disadvantaged families in the neighbourhood. This quota is by no means a silver bullet. After all, eighty percent of schools in India are government-run and in dire need of teachers, infrastructure and more.

Nevertheless, this masterstroke, which aims to piggyback on the rest of the mushrooming for-profit private schools, single-handedly opens the door for at least 1 million eligible children each year across the country to receive 8 years of free education.

Challenges for Community Radio in India's Rural Development

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

India’s 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) talks of challenges emanating from the economy’s transition to a higher growth path, the structural changes that come with it and the expectations it generates. One pertinent challenge in India, in the context of economic growth at the rate of 8%, is the extent of progress towards the multi dimensional process of inclusive growth. Without doubt, the latter should result in lower incidence of poverty, significant improvements in health care, universal access for children going to school and increased access to skilled development.

These parameters are more critical for an estimated 833 million people in India who continue to live in rural areas and a very large proportion of whom, both men and women, are either wholly or significantly still dependent for their livelihood on farm as well as non-farm activities. A plethora of centrally sponsored flagship rural development programs such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) have been given special impetus aimed at building rural  infrastructure and providing basic services with the aim of reducing poverty. These are mandated to be implemented by the provincial governments through institutions of local self governance in the gaze of the well oiled administrative district machinery and increasingly in collaboration with the civil society.

An unprecedented injection of public funds during the 12th Plan Period through decentralized governance, calls for a renewed focus on the dynamics of grassroots empowerment that could enable rural communities to access information about their rights and entitlements made available under these programmes, both by law and policy. This consequently also has implications for accountability in the reach and impact of the public delivery system that the poorest approach. The key question, thus is, what kind of an accessible communication medium, amongst today’s robust social media, should be utilized during the next four years extensively to sensitize and empower the poorest in rural areas in partnership with civil society?  Secondly, what are the governance challenges that need to be identified in the above partnership to make the benefits of the envisaged inclusive growth more transparent, participatory and bottom up?

The Key’s in the Keyboard: New Technologies Can Help Enhance India's Agricultural Productivity

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

Agriculture in India still remains the main source of livelihood for the majority of the rural population and more importantly the small holding farmers. With an average annual growth rate of 3.3%, the major challenges facing this sector include a shrinking land base, dwindling water resources, the adverse impact of climate change, shortage of farm labour, increasing costs and uncertainties associated with the volatility of international markets.

A pertinent factor that continues to impinge upon these challenges is the lack of timely information about market prices, crop varieties, production techniques, seasonal risk and disease control strategies. The critical question thus is — how can we effectively apply information and communication technologies (ICTs) in agriculture to mitigate the factors that lead to the physical isolation of the rural smallholder during the ensuing 12th Five Year Plan period.

Kevin Watkins on Inequality – Required Reading

Duncan Green's picture

If you want an overview of the current debates on inequality, read Kevin Watkins’ magisterial Ryszard Kapuściński lecture. Kevin, who will shortly take over as the new head of the Overseas Development Institute, argues that ‘getting to zero’ on poverty means putting inequality at the heart of the development debate and the post2015 agreement (he doesn’t share my scepticism on that one). As a taster, here are two powerful graphs, showing how poverty will fall globally and in India, with predicted growth rates, in a low/high/current inequality variants. QED, really.


Aadhaar Enabled Service Delivery to the Poor in India

Tanya Gupta's picture

The poor are nameless, faceless, and therefore, powerless.  Throughout history, the act of naming is linked to power.  In 2010, the poor of India were named.  Aadhaar is a unique 12 digit identification number that can used to get social benefits from the Central Government and the State Government by Indian citizens. 

Most importantly, perhaps, direct cash benefits are supported.  The ability of the poor to withdraw their direct cash not only empowers them, but also minimizes corruption-based leakages of entitlements from the system. Moreover, the delays in receiving the money they are entitled to will also be reduced through the use of micro ATMs.  A micro ATM is basically a mobile phone with a fingerprint device for real time authentication. 

Realizing the Potential of Right to Information

Anupama Dokeniya's picture

Right to Information (RTI) laws can be a useful instrument for improving transparency – if the political will for implementation is sustained, and if the broader governance environment provides the enabling conditions for the exercise of the law. A research project that studied the implementation of RTI laws in a number of countries showed that implementation has been very uneven across countries. In some countries, RTI laws had been leveraged effectively for extracting information in a number of important areas, ranging from public expenditures, to performance and procurement, and exposing instances of corruption. In other countries, the existence of an RTI law had little impact in any of these areas, and oversight and capacity building mechanisms had either not been set up, or not functioned effectively.

The findings of the study are not surprising. The implementation gap between de jure and de facto reforms in countries faced with capacity constraints and political economy challenges is well-known. Yet, international agencies have pushed policy reforms without adequate attention to the constraints and challenges of implementation. The pressure to win support and legitimacy with international aid agencies has been an important driver of the adoption of RTI laws. The right has also been recognized in international human rights conventions, and more recently has gained increasing international attention (for instance, the existence of a law is one of the considerations for membership in the Open Government Partnership). Further, pressure from domestic constituencies has also propelled political actors to champion the law. But, once passed, capacity limitations, the erosion of political will, and active resistance have been important impediments to realizing the potential of RTI.

Of Protests, Politics, and Policies

Anupama Dokeniya's picture

The recent massive streets protests against the brutal and deadly assault on a young woman in a private bus in India capital, New Delhi, have been likened to the Arab Spring of India, a definitive turning point in the country’s political evolution. Clearly, in both its composition and content, the protests resonate with, not only the revolutionary street demonstrations in early 2011 in many countries in the Middle East, but also with a number of other movements that have burgeoned in countries across the world over the last couple of years. In the wake of the Arab Spring, and supposedly drawing inspiration from it, demonstrators occupied the financial centers of the US and Europe, conjuring up images of the 1960s. Unrest over austerity measures in European capitals hit by the global financial crisis continued. In the UK and Chile, students took to the streets protesting against high university fees. And in India itself, the anti-rape protests came on the heels of an anticorruption movement, unparalleled in its mass participation, media attention, and longevity.