economist and iit delhi professor reetika khera is out with a new, edited volume on the first six years of nrega. and given that i am interested in figuring the myriad ways in which india — politicians, state governments, the centre, rich and poor farmers, babus, what have you — is responding to nrega, i mailed her a bunch of questions.
for instance, half the country says nrega is responsible for wage inflation. votaries of nrega say it has empowered the poor. and then, you look at the stats and realise that nrega is nowhere near offering the 100 days of work per household that it guarentees. in 2009-10, for instance, it offered about 50 days. how can 50 days of employment in a year foster empowerment, engender wage inflation?
here is what khera had to say:
You say that 53 days of NREGA employment is too little. In a sense, I agree because I suspect that the actual demand is much higher. On the other hand, 53 days of employment – in one’s own village, at the minimum wage – means something for a poor family. In Bihar in 2008, labourers who were getting 10-20 days of NREGA employment told us that it had made a big difference in their lives. You may wonder how so little can matter so much. That’s because the alternatives for NREGA workers are very unattractive. For instance, migrating to work in brick kilns, or as agricultural labour, often to another state, without proper shelter for your family, captive in the hands of the “thekedar” who takes you there for 2-3 months at a stretch. On the other hand, if 10-20 days of work at Rs 100 per day is available locally, labourers can combine it with work on their own lands or even as poorly paid agricultural labourers locally and stay with their families.