Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, November 16-17, 2006
One of the key reasons responsible for this is the ecological crisis which the nation is grappling with. India’s poverty is ‘ecological poverty’, as opposed to what conventional economists see as ‘income poverty’. In our biomass-based society, ecological degradation triggers poverty.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which came into force in February 2006, is the latest initiative in combating poverty: it envisions regeneration of the rural economy by creating productive assets like water harvesting tanks, watershed development and plantation of trees for soil and moisture conservation. But is the Act equipped to meet its ambitious objectives, or is it just ‘another wage-employment’ scheme?
To discuss and debate and facilitate understanding and reportage on the issue, CSE organised a two-day media briefing workshop in Hyderabad in association with Action Aid. The workshop brought together mediapersons, policy experts, researchers and activists to explain the key topical areas in NREGA and its implementation. Journalists from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi were invited to attend the workshop. Out of the 100-odd applicants, 35 participants were selected.
The agenda of the workshop divided the day into four broad sessions, and featured presentations from eight resourcepersons. The key areas that the sessions covered included the status and significance of NREGA; the Act as a development tool for creating assets; issues related to implementation and delivery, with specific focus on the role of panchayats; and the impact of the Act. Richard Mahapatra, coordinator, natural resource management and livelihoods unit, CSE began the deliberations with a session on the status of NREGA and the potential of the Act as a tool to fight poverty. This was followed by presentations from Action Aid: Umi Daniel, of Action Aid, Hyderabad and Manas Rajan of Action Aid Rajasthan gave a low down on the fundamentals of NREGA and their experiences so far.
Among the other speakers were B Sada Siva, team leader, Dhan Foundation, Chennai who elaborated on NREGA and water conservation; K S Gopal from the Centre for Environmental Concerns, Hyderabad who spoke on the effectiveness of NREGA and NREGA as a tool for development; Surekha Sule, senior fellow, National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad whose brief introduction on the provisions of the Act was followed by a presentation on the role of panchayati raj institutions in the implementation of the scheme; and Praveen Shetty of the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), who spoke of PRIA’s experiences with the implementation of NREGA in the country. The opportunities, issues, the kind and amount of work and panchayat’s roles in different states were also highlighted in his presentation. The concluding session saw a presentation from A Murali, director of NREGS in Andhra Pradesh. He gave a state-level overview of the scheme, which, he said, had already spent Rs 260 crore, provided employment to 19 lakh people in the state, and helped add 16 lakh savings accounts to the post office.
The second day of the workshop, the participants started for a field trip to Rangapur village in Pargi mandal of Ranga Reddy district. The aim, as in all similarly designed CSE workshops, was to provide the participants with a hands-on experience to supplement the information provided at the previous day’s sessions; in this case, the aim was to look at a few works being undertaken under the Act, and the level of involvement of the gram panchayats in deciding on these works.
The team visited various work sites – that of percolation tank being dug by labourers from Basireddypally panchyat, which was expected to benefit an area of 40 acres, besides recharging the groundwater; biodiesel plantations; horticulture and bunding.
The Mandal Parishad Development Officer, Varala Samuel informed the participants that the decision to build the pond was taken by the gram panchayat and the department only assisted the panchayat. The group was informed that so far 6,315 job cards had been issued and employment provided to more than 3,000 people in the mandal with an average daily wage of Rs 139. The additional project director of the District Water Management Agency, Mr Srinivas also told the group that the money was being transferred through the post office savings account.