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Is the UPA's flagship welfare scheme working as advertised? With the publication of two government documents on NREGA, Manmohan Singh's "silver bullet", a re-appraisal may be in order. First, the ministry of rural development released "NREGA Sameeksha", a compilation in which Jairam Ramesh referred to public concerns about leakages and misappropriation of funds and resources. He also expressed his own misgivings about the concurrent evaluation of NREGA, a continuous process of appraisal. Now, the department of industrial policy and promotion has released a study that finds NREGA's assurance of unskilled employment is slowing the growth of skilled and semi-skilled labour.
Continuing economic growth would require millions of unskilled and casual workers to acquire new skills and enter the manufacturing sector. Having rewarded unskilled labour, the government must now find a way to encourage skill development. It can encourage rural industries, for instance. If NREGA funds subsidised the training of the workforce, corporations would be more inclined to enter the hinterland and source their labour locally. Job guarantees in industry would also reduce local resistance, which has plagued several projects in the past. The problems raised by corruption are harder to deal with. From its inception, NREGA had insisted on transparent, stringent and continuous audit procedures, both financial and social. And yet, these measures have proved to be insufficient. Corruption in the allocation of work is not unusual, but it is rarely reflected in audits. Perhaps the scheme needs to have punitive penalties for corruption.
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