February 2, 2006
Anantpur, Andhra Pradesh

PM launches NREGA programme

It is with a deep sense of satisfaction that I am here today at Bandlapalli Gram Panchayat to launch programmes under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. This is a historic day not only for the poor people of Bandlapalli, but for lakhs of people across the country.

The National Common Minimum Programme had promised to bring in an Act for guaranteeing rural employment. We also promised to launch a National Food for Work Programme. We have now redeemed both these promises. I must thank Soniaji for her untiring leadership in ensuring that this Act was passed by Parliament. Her deep commitment made it possible for us to fulfill our sacred promise to our people.

I had the opportunity of coming to Andhra Pradesh on the birth anniversary of Pandit Nehru in 2004 when we launched the National Food for Work Programme. I am back today again with the people of Andhra Pradesh to declare formally that the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is now effective.

This Employment Guarantee Act is the most significant legislation of our times in many ways. For the first time, rural communities have been given not just a development programme but a regime of rights. This Act will also unlock the potential of the rural poor to contribute to the re- construction of their environment. By doing this it will accelerate the growth of the rural economy. The NREGA gives hope to those who had all but lost their hope. The NREGA gives employment, gives income, gives a livelihood, and it gives a chance to live a life of self-respect and dignity.

The NREGA is a legal guarantee that people can use to secure their entitlement of a job with a minimum wage. It holds the Government responsible for making this employment and this income available. The NREGA transfers power to the people.It is a legal instrument in the hands of the poor based on the demand of the worker. The obligation to respond to demand is a legal compulsion. The NREGA has a universal reach in all the areas where this laws applies.

This enhances our commitment and responsibility towards our common agenda. We must, therefore, ensure that implementation at the field level is fully effective. We must ensure full transparency and accountability in implementation of this guarantee at all levels. People's participation in this programme should be ensured through constitutional forums like the Gram Sabha.

The implementation of the NREGA offers us an opportunity to strengthen our democratic processes. Panchayat Raj institutions have a key role under the Act. Gram Sabhas, self help group, local monitoring committees, beneficiary groups and other forms of community- based organizations are the basic agencies which will run and monitor the programme. This itself will be an enormous step towards the empowerment of vulnerable sections of our society. They will learn to actively participate in democratic institutions at the grass-roots and acquire a greater role in decision-making and control over resources. Such empowerment is the essence of rural development.

NREGA has a clear focus on the poorest of the poor. It seeks to reach out to those in need of livelihood security. It will come to the aid of those who may be under pressure to migrate in search of a livelihood. It will help us empower the poor to fight poverty, disease and indebtedness. The NREGA is a unique social security system. It confers upon vulnerable groups the right to demand work when they need it. This is especially true for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and for poor women, who are the worst sufferers of social inequality.

I hope the Gram Sabha will take an active part in preparing a plan at the village level to make use of this new benefit. We must ensure that our plans create works that build new facilities for our villages. Like schools, roads and other facilities. We must also learn to become self-reliant so that we can find our own means to earn our livelihood.

The Gram Sabha has the power to undertake social audit of NREGA. I invite non-governmental organizations to take an active part in ensuring that there is a social audit of NREGA. People can exercise their rights under the Right to Information Act and access records and information on all aspects of work. Muster rolls, payment registers and employment estimates are critical documents. They should be made available in the public domain for scrutiny and verification by all of us. Every work site should have notices of rates and estimates and people engaged in work. Every year a Public Report is to be presented at each level on the work that has been done under the NREGA and what its outcomes have been. The Gram Panchayat will present this Report to the Gram Sabha, the State Government to the State Legislature and the Central Government to Parliament.

I have some suggestions to the State Government as well. There are multiple partners and stakeholders in this large scale participatory process. We all need to learn to work together in harmony and coordination. Each agency should be carefully trained on specific tasks and functions. Each should have a clear charter of roles and responsibilities so that there is no ambiguity, delay or denial of the legitimate rights of people. It would be useful to mobilize the support of information technology not only to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of management but also to empower people to access information on their entitlements. A sound monitoring system should be put in place. This should not only be internal; it should involve stakeholders in assessing the impact of the programme on their lives. We must be tireless in our efforts to ensure that benefits do reach the poor. In doing so, special care should be taken to set up grievance redressal mechanisms so that people know that they can ask for justice and get it. This will make the management system prompt and responsive and help us to rectify mistakes on time.

Every challenge is a test of our imagination. I would repeat the three watchwords that we need to recall at this historic moment: outlays must be matched by outcomes; productive assets must be created to pay for the money we spend; and, this guarantee must be implemented in the true spirit. If we heed them, we will be able to contribute our share to improving the life of our people.

Jai Hind!