Repurposing NREGA

Repurposing NREGA

The only assured aspect of any mass government program is that it is very hard to dismantle after it is enacted. And so it happens that the NREGA program now costs India upwards of Rs.40,000 Crores. Available data show that yearly outlays in absolute rupees have grown by more than 300% since 2006-2007.

At the moment, NREGA''s primary goal is to build physical infrastructure in rural areas and provide jobs to the unemployed in the process. The program has it''s shortcomings and the quality of assets created has been questionable. There are some changes that can bring better results within the existing framework. Better yet, it may be useful to examine other possibilities of creating jobs in rural areas under NREGA.

Studies like this on maternal and child health indicators show that rural areas lag urban regions by wide margins. Malnutrition which also contributes to deaths among poorer children,is shamefully high among the most vulnerable sections. NREGA should consider spending part of the yearly budget to employ people from rural areas who can work on advancing maternal and child health. Training can be imparted to these NREGA workers in assisting and enabling women to seek and obtain nutrition, pre and post natal care.

Nutrition programs run by the government are not yielding the results they were set out to. Educating potential beneficiaries to seek and avail better outcomes from these programs create a powerful pull mechanism. Right now, the push mechanism used by the government in administering these programs is not working.

To be sure, India desperately needs major improvements in physical infrastructure. The social infrastructure however, is in even worse shape and hardly gets similar attention as the lack of roads , water and electricity. Dedicating a large chunk of NREGA funds to create social infrastructure jobs can deliver better value for money than the physical assets being built at the moment. It could also help save and enrich thousands of lives.