August 2006

ICT in NREGA implementation

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ICT in NREGA implementation

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is unparalleled in its scope and vision. But there are a few roadblocks that have to be negotiated before its full potential can be realized.This article examines the role ICT can play in crossing some of these hurdles.

A revolution the likes of which has never been seen  before is sweeping the hinterland of India. The recent passage of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) by the Parliament will finally ensure that the State is able to give effect to one of the Directive Principles spelt out in the Constitution of India. Section 39 under the Directive Principles of State Policy embodies the right to work in the following words: “The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood.”

The NREGA was passed by Parliament in August 2005 and received the Presidential nod on 5 Sept 2005. The objective of NREGA is to enhance the livelihood security of the people in rural areas by generating wage employment through works that develop the infrastructure of the area. The choice of works suggested addresses causes of chronic poverty like drought, deforestation, soil erosion etc. Effectively implemented, the employment generated under the Act will also build up the long-term livelihood asset base of rural India. NREGA guarantees wage employment on public works to any adult who is willing to do unskilled manual work, subject to a guaranteed employment for 100 days per household per financial year. If employment cannot be provided, the applicant is entitled to daily unemployment allowance. Panchayats will play a very important role as NREGA has designated them as the principal authorities for planning and implementation of schemes under the Act.

The Act is initially being implemented in 200 districts. This will require strong systems for the effective management and implementation of the schemes. The contemplated outlays are on an unprecedented scale and therefore transparency and accountability will be key issues. For successful implementation, potential beneficiaries need to be aware of their work entitlements and the essential elements of the Schemes. Besides their roles and responsibilities the implementing agencies also need to be aware of the legal implications, as employment has been guaranteed as a right. Productive assets have to be created so that the livelihood base of rural communities is built up to ensure long-term sustainability.

Possible Areas of ICT intervention
An ICT intervention in the implementation of NREGA is important from the following perspective:

(a) ICT will ensure transparency and help in information dissemination  
(b) An ICT tool is required because the size of the programme is very large, not only from the geographical and financial perspective but from the perspective of the size of the target group of beneficiaries as well.
(c) ICT will facilitate online monitoring and evaluation of the progra-mme. The timely feedback will help in timely corrective actions.
(d) An ICT tool will help in social audits whereby the local bodies and citizens may actually audit the programme at their end.

ICT will play a definite role in every phase of the implementation of the NREGA. The following could be the major areas for interventions.

a) Communication & Mobilization

i. Some of the ICT interventions that can be possibly used for communication & mobilization include community radio, television, public address systems, panchayat websites and the Internet to publicize the NREGA.

ii. Information kiosks that have been set up in some villages and the 100,000 Common Service Centers being implemented by the Dept. of IT can be used as focal points to disseminate information on the scheme.

b) Planning Phase

i. Creation of a database of durable, productive, labour-intensive works at Panchayat level. Mapping out socially productive and durable assets/infrastructure which can be created in the respective zones/clusters.

ii. Issuing of job cards, digitization of muster rolls, persons employed, their output, wage rates, working hours etc can also be available for verification by the Panchayats, peers and the community through the use of ICTs..
iii. The use of Smart Cards/Biometric cards can be introduced to identify and track every beneficiary in the region.

c) Execution of Works

i. Works Management System with authentic records of the attendance at the worksites with simultaneous updating of the employment records is necessary. Works identified in a particular block to be taken up under the scheme must be available for viewing and measurement by all Panchayats within that block.
ii. Work Flow Automation System may be introduced since the approval of works, allocation of works to an implementing agency etc. must be sanctioned by the Programme Officer or such local authority (including the Panchayats at the district, intermediate or village level).
iii. Disbursement of wages and unemployment allowance.

d) Monitoring

i. ICTs provide for ensuring that the members of the designated rural household are only availing the guarantee of 100 days of employment and their wage employment rights are not being misused by others. Biometric systems like fingerprint recognition may be used as potential solutions to address this issue. A fingerprint recognition based time and attendance system at the front-end backed by a comprehensive computerized MIS at the back-end may be able to address  the issue.
iii. The NREG Act makes it compulsory for the daily wages to be disbursed within a specified  time limit. It therefore becomes necessary that this information is captured and available for public viewing through the MIS. Information such as data pertaining to households, number of days of employment provided, reports on the assets created, financial information like allotment of funds by MoRD to the States and eventually to the implementing agencies, tracking wages paid to the workers and all other aspects of implementation must be captured and made available to view for people in the hierarchy and the public at-large. This will also be required by the Right to Information Act.
iv. Geographical Information System

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