The MGNREGA Act is an innovative piece of legislation with unique elements that not only provides wage employment but also empowers people to prepare and implement their own village development plans, and finally audit the public expenditure thereby making them masters of their own destiny. However, effective implementation of MGNREGA in the country is fraught with several challenges. For instance, the institutional architecture to implement this flagship programme is insufficient and there is a shortage of functionaries to administer the scheme. In this context, MGNREGA in Sikkim has been performing reasonably well and has been able to achieve sustainable outcomes as indicated below:
- Enhanced incomes especially for women: Of the total 92,000 rural households in Sikkim (Census, 2011), 63,000 households (mostly women) were provided 70 days employment under MGNREGA in 2013-14. The programme was able to enhance the annual income of 70 per cent of rural households by about Rs 9,000 every year.
- Durable assets created: In 2013-14, 970 works were completed, of which 149 were torrent training works, 236 water conservation works, 142 drought proofing and plantation works, 74 minor irrigation channels, 268 rural footpaths and 662 land terracing works (including play grounds).
- Rapid decline in poverty levels: As per the Planning Commission (2012) estimates, the percentage of below poverty line (BPL) households in Sikkim has come down significantly from 31 per cent in 2004-05 to 8 per cent in 2011-12. This 70 per cent decline in poverty levels in 7 years’ time is amongst the best in the country.
Key factors for effective MGNREGA
Gram Vikas Kendra: The State has two tier panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) at the village and district level. In 2007 the Gram Vikas Kendras were established to provide administrative, accounts and technical support to the gram panchayat units. Boasting of state-of-the-art infrastructure, each Kendras provides support to a population of about 15,000. Thirty-one such centres have been created to cater to 176-gram panchayat offices. Each cluster office supports about six-gram panchayat units. The Kendra functions as the MGNREGA Programme Office, with funds being routed through it.
Gram panchayat for village development
Sikkim devolved 100 per cent implementation of the MGNREGA programme to the gram panchayat units. Giving primacy to PRIs helped in making the administration people-centric. To popularise the scheme, Pawan Chamling, Chief Minister of the State gave the maxim ‘Afno gaon, Afai banaun’ (let’s build our village ourselves) positioning MGNREGA as a nation-building activity, ensuring large scale participation by villagers. Consequently, more than 70 per cent of the rural households participated in this programme. The programme also shifted from planning just a few macro-works per village to promoting several micro-works.
Institutionalising social audits
The district and block teams as well as reputed local NGOs were trained in 2010 at a regional workshop organised by National Institute of Rural Development & Panchayati Raj, social activists from Andhra Pradesh and Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Rajasthan. These NGOs also facilitated detailed social audits in all gram panchayat units. The partnership was then institutionalised and the Voluntary Health Association of Sikkim (VHAS) was identified as the social audit unit (SAU) for Sikkim. The findings of the social audit are confirmed at the district level, followed by an action taken report. The process of the social audit has been codified in the form of a social audit handbook and the report can be downloaded from www.mgnregasikkim.org. A cadre of trained auditors was also created. Had it not been for these three critical attributes, MGNREGA in Sikkim would not have been able to bridge the last mile, manage a wide outreach and remain accountable to the people.
It is imperative to devise concrete mechanisms and plug delivery gaps to ensure the effective governance of MGNREGA, especially since the scheme remains the only source of assured cash income for millions of women who seek employment in their proximity for a better deal for their families.