The percentage share of female workers participating in Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) convergence projects has been found to be much higher in the hills than the plains of Uttarakhand.
On an average, it was found that the percentage share of female workers participating in the MGNREGA convergence projects is much higher in the hills (70% in Pauri and 81% in Champawat) districts than the plain districts (22% in Udham Singh Nagar and 0% percent in Haridwar).
Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee and the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR), Hyderabad, have jointly studied the convergence activities under MGNREGA in Uttarakhand. They include days of employment provided, wages earned, asset creation, the participation of various social and occupational groups, its impact on socio-economic issues including social empowerment, migration and agricultural productivity.
Titled ‘Assessment of Convergence Activities under MGNREGA in Uttarakhand,’ the study investigated into the extent to which convergence activities under the scheme have been implemented in the State.
Speaking about the importance of this study, Jyothis Sathyapalan, Professor at the Centre for Wage Employment at NIRDPR said that the findings are really encouraging implementers since women’s participation is high in convergence works related to land development, water conservation and draught proofing, which not only enhance women’s livelihoods in hilly rural areas but also helps to restore the mountain ecosystem services.
The study found that in terms of the overall employment generation per household, the performance seemed better in the hill districts, with higher market wage rates in the hills (Rs.306 in Pauri and Rs.310 in Champawat) than the plain districts (Rs.291 in Haridwar and Rs.283 in Udham Singh Nagar).
A majority of households working in the convergence activities were found to be below the poverty line. The percentage of such households was observed highest in Champawat (99 percent), followed by Pauri (86 percent), US Nagar (80 percent) and Haridwar (63 percent).
One of the key recommendations is digitalization of socio-economic data and GIS-based resource mapping and planning in each GP should be given top priority by the State government. This will help identify relevant projects for convergence to achieve more inclusive and sustainable rural development—ecologically, economically and socially.
Highlighting the salient features of this study, Prof S.P. Singh, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Roorkee, said, “Convergence of MGNREGS with other rural development schemes intends not only to optimize the use of scarce financial, physical and human resources but also to improve the delivery mechanism, and ensure creation of durable and quality assets with their effective utilization. However, MGNREGA convergence in the state was found limited to only a few activities with quite moderate impact due to a number of reasons. These included lack of institution-building at all levels, repugnance of the line departments and gram panchayats towards the convergence activities, lack of motivated and trained manpower and shouldering the programme responsibility on the temporary staff like DPOs, and lack of coordination between panchayat and rural development officials. Nevertheless, there is immense potential of improvement in the rural livelihood of the hill regions through better conceptualization and planning of convergence activities, especially replicating the convergence model of Tea Board in other activities such as horticulture and agro-forestry”.
A review of the convergence projects revealed that in all the sample districts, rural connectivity was the main activity under the convergence initiative. It was also observed that not enough importance was given to the conceptualization and execution of convergence projects related to activities such as water conservation, water harvesting, micro-irrigation and renovation of water bodies. This was alluded to the possible non-involvement of concerned line departments in the MGNREGA-convergence initiatives. An analysis of the awareness level of the workers showed that they had very limited knowledge about the key provisions of MGNREGA convergence. Even elected members of Gram Panchayats (GP) were found to be unaware of the convergence modalities. Most respondents said that relevant information was not displayed in the GP. The percentage of respondents stating that the information was not displayed in the Gram Panchayat was highest in Champawat (100%) followed by US Nagar (99%), Pauri (92%) and Haridwar (79%).
Further, findings suggested that there was no institutional set-up for MGNREGA convergence. There was a capacity deficit at all levels, with a lack of training, awareness and capacity-building. There was also a lack of coordination observed between the departments of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj. There was negligible or no involvement of line departments in the convergence projects; as the strong accountability, transparency mechanisms and non-negotiable parameters of MGNREGA seemed to deter the line departments from converging their activities with the former. NGOs also seemed to be missing from the capacity-building and awareness creation programmes.
The study was carried out with multifold objectives to review the planning, execution, and monitoring and evaluation of the MGNREGA convergence process, to evaluate the outcomes of the convergence projects in terms of quality, durability and utility of created assets, and their impact on the livelihood of marginalized groups, and to assess the extent of convergence of MGNREGA with the untied funds of Gram Panchayats.
Several key recommendations came out of the study. First, there is a need for the State government to prepare detailed operational guidelines on MGNREGA convergence and disseminate them among the concerned officials and elected functionaries. A District Convergence Coordination Committee should be constituted, and the Draft District Plan should reflect the convergence activities.
A need for a survey to assess the requirements of the State for different kinds of rural development and NRM projects under MGNREGA convergence was also identified. There was also a felt need for there to be a functional merger of the departments of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj as having to deal with both in parallel seemed challenging for the rural people.
Further, MGNREGA convergence is only limited to a few activities, with limited impact on the overall rural livelihood and natural resource development, calling for an urgent need for the convergence of line departments dealing in the areas of agriculture, horticulture, forestry, fishery, livestock, water and sanitation, NRLM, Green Indian Mission, tourism, literacy and health etc.