Reforms are supposed to lead to improvements but studies of several ‘economic reforms’ in many countries including India have revealed that these increased the problems of ordinary problems particularly weaker sections. On similar lines recent ‘reforms’ relating to several schemes meant for the welfare of weaker sections have given results that are very different from what genuine reforms are supposed to produce.
Data for March-December 2022 available now reveals that disbursal for some of these schemes was incredibly low and in some cases nil. Study of related details for some of these schemes reveals that these have been in the middle of some intended reforms. The government must be much more careful about formulating its reforms so that adverse impacts can be avoided.
This can also be said about the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) works. The implementation of the act has been much below its potential, allocations have been inadequate, wages have been delayed for long times and employment per worker has been much below the stipulated 100 days. But even while NREGA workers and activists were struggling for improvements regarding all this, the government came out with its reforms relating to attendance and payments which can have a very adverse impact on workers. At least the government should have listened to the criticism of this made by those who had been involved closely with the framing of this legislation and its rules– very senior academics like Jean Dreze and very senior social activists like Nikhil Dey.
The NREGA Sangharsh Morcha and other activist groups have been involved in a prolonged dharna in Delhi to protest against new and old flaws in the implementation of NREGA and press for real, genuine reforms. Their latest protest is against the linking of NREGA payments to Aadhaar Based Payments System (ABPS) as the only system of paying workers their wages. Earlier there was provision for two systems of payments—ordinary payments in bank accounts as well as ABPS. As activists have argued, it is important also for the former to continue as many workers—perhaps more than half– are not in a position to receive ABPS payments. However the government is in the process of making the ABPS compulsory after March 31. There has be no satisfactory explanation regarding why the simpler bank accounts system cannot continue as well, instead of making compulsory ABPS, whoch has been described by the Morcha as “ a complex, cumbersome and unreliable system that has caused severe problems in the past few years.”
One hopes for the sake of NREGA workers as well as others whom the government schemes for weaker sections are meant that while making any changes or reforms the government will above all consider their interests, convenience and welfare. The government should be willing to reconsider its NREGA payments system and other recent changes which are resulting in increasing (instead of deceasing ) implementation problems.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food’, ‘Man over Machine’ and ‘A Day in 2071’.