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Jean Dreze

20 August 2005

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill was tabled in Parliament on 18 August. The amended bill meets some (not all) of the main demands of people’s organisations and Left parties, as expressed for instance in the Rozgar Adhikar Yatra which travelled for 50 days through ten states in May and June 2005.

As per the tabled bill, the guarantee is universal (every rural adult eligible) and irreversible (cannot be withdrawn), payment of the statutory minimum wage is assured, and the law commits the government to extend the guarantee to the whole of rural India in five years. However, the guarantee is restricted to 100 days of work per household per year.

The recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, tabled in Parliament on 27 July, included individual entitlements instead of household entitlements. The household approach is quite problematic, as it creates competition for work within the household and may lead to the marginalization of women. The Rozgar Yatra also demanded an “unlimited guarantee”, with no restrictions on the number of days of work.

The bill carries a new "anti-corruption" clause: "Without prejudice to the provisions of sub-section (1), the central government may on receipt of any complaint regarding the issue or improper utilization of funds granted under this Act in respect of any scheme if prima facie satisfied that there is a case, cause an investigation into the complaint made by any agency designated by it and if necessary, order stoppage of release of funds to the scheme and institute appropriate remedial measures for its proper implementation within a reasonable period of time."

The concern with corruption is well taken, but this clause is misguided and counter-productive. For one thing, it undermines the incentives that people (especially labourers) have to “blow the whistle” in the event of corruption: if funds are discontinued, work will stop and they will be the main victims. For another, this clause gives the central government sweeping powers to stop releasing funds in a selective manner, even without adequate evidence of corruption. What is required, instead of this flawed clause, is to strengthen transparency measures and enable people to monitor the works.

Jean Dreze
20 Aug 2005

Jean Dreze is Professor, Centre for Development Economics at the Delhi School of Economics. He is also a member of the support group of the Right to Food campaign.

Citizen Direct is India Together's channel for publishing reports from citizens who have detailed information about specific civil society concerns and matters, by virtue of their participation, association, or independent observation. These reports are therefore as witnessed and understood by the authors themselves; India Together accepts no liability or responsibility for them.   More

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