Creation of sustainable assets that strengthen the livelihood resource base of rural areas is one of the key objectives of MGNREGA.
Since the inception of MGNREGA, around 146 lakh works have been undertaken; of these, almost 51 per cent are works related to water (water conservation, flood control, irrigation, drought proofing, renovation of traditional water bodies and micro-irrigation), and over 19 per cent works are related to rural connectivity. At such a scale, MGNREGA works have the potential to benefit rural communities by improving irrigation facilities, enhancing land productivity and connecting remote villages to input and output markets.
Overall, studies suggest that while many productive assets have been created on the ground owing to good planning and execution at the micro-level, there is need for more focussed implementation with regard to the creation of durable and sustainable assets under MGNREGA.
QUALITY AND DURABILITY OF ASSET
When planned and executed well, studies indicate a positive Return on Investment for MGNREGA assets; a study observed a Return on Investment of over 100 per cent in a single year of use.
MGNREGA has faced criticism on the quality and sustainability of the assets created under it. Critics of the Scheme argue that since employment generation is the primary objective of the Act, the works undertaken are labour-intensive, These works tend to be non-durable and have limited use. On the other hand, other scholars suggest that earthen works can also be durable if planned, designed and constructed properly.
Return on Investments/Cost Recovery
Micro-canal systems were found to have the highest rate of return compared to all other MGNREGA works (more than 200 per cent within a year).
It must be noted that while the renovation increased the crop productivity by around 6–15 per cent, the bulk of the benefits for the farmers came in the form of diesel saving as they were able to replace costly well-irrigation.
Factors like, the type of work being undertaken, technical design, and the geological differences in areas of implementation are also crucial to determining the average recovery cost. Intra-state variation was apparent in the case of Gujarat where public assets created in Sabarkantha district were doing better than their counterparts in Junagadh in terms of economic benefits generated.
Perception based Surveys
Research indicates that wherever village communities have taken enthusiastically to the idea of MGNREGA and where their enthusiasm has been supported by an able, well-staffed administration and capable local governance institutions and leadership, results have been positive. In other instances, lags in process and procedure have reduced the efficiency of assets.
The technical design of an asset takes into account its geographical location, feasibility, strength of the physical structure, etc. The sustainability of an asset depends to a large extent on the soundness of its technical design.
Different assessments on works like plantations point to the criticality of planning and careful execution. In a study in Jharkhand, the average life of plants was found to be only two to three years (as opposed to 15 and above years of productive life depending on the type of tree), due to lack of planning in selection of the location for these works as well poor maintenance.
In other places where plantation activities have been well-planned, saplings/trees were shown to have a high survival rate. For instance, in Madhya Pradesh, around 71,000 saplings were planted over 175 hectares of land under a large-scale four-year drought-proofing and greening project. The survival rate of the sapling was over 90 per cent (after four years).
These variations may be reflective of careful planning, execution and maintenance required for ensuring the feasibility and durability of works A research study of Rajasthan also concluded that inadequate staff was a major reason for poor quality and effectiveness of assets.
A major weakness of water-related works under MGNREGA has been the excessive concentration on excavation and desilting of ponds without corresponding work on treating their catchment areas or on the construction of dams based on earthen engineering.
WORK COMPLETION RATE
Studies indicate that the completion rate of works, just as in the case of quality of assets, is dependent on district/region-specific implementation of the Scheme and is affected by factors such as poor planning, lack of technical support, irregular flow of funds, and delayed payment.
Under the reporting system of the Scheme (MIS/MPR), spillover works (works not completed in the preceding year) are reflected as ongoing works. Thus the completion rate in any year is cumulative, indicating a completion percentage of both spillover works from the previous year and new works in the current year.
Studies suggested the need for more effective planning and giving priority to selection of smaller structures for soil and water conservation since this may improve the completion rate for works and accrue the desired benefits to stakeholders.
Irregular flow of funds was another reason for incomplete works, as concluded by a study in Meghalaya and Sikkim.
In Mandla, Madhya Pradesh and Narmada, Gujarat, a report found that while people started to work on MGNREGA, due to delay in wage payments they shifted back to lowerpaying works. Lack of technical support to communities, on how to plan and when and where to start a work is also a key factor in non-completion of works. A large number of works, particularly those re lated to water conservation, remain incom plete, either due to lack of technical support to GPs or the onset of monsoons.
It is important to note that findings related to quality, durability and rate of work completion suggest that the problem is not in the design of the Act but the usefulness of the Scheme is dependent on the strength of its implementation at the field level. For instance, lack of planning in areas like potential demand and need for MGNREGA works, participation of villagers and prioritisation of works in the Gram Sabha (GS), and focus on creation of productive assets based on principles of watershed, etc., can greatly reduce the development potential of MGNREGA.
WORK ON PRIVATE LANDS AND PUBLIC LANDS
A study on best- performing assets in Bihar, Gujarat, Kerala and Rajasthan, estimated a higher RoI of 116 per cent for water-related public assets, due to the number of people they benefit, as against a RoI of 35 per cent for private assets, in a single year of use. However, private assets were found to be better maintained and hence more sustainable, due to definite ownership and rights.MGNREGA allows for asset creation, such as water conservation works, provision of irrigation facilities, land development, etc. on public land.
The Act also provides for taking up of works such as irrigation, horticulture and land development, on private land belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the Scheduled Tribes (STs) or families below poverty line (BPL), or to the beneficiaries of land reforms or to those under the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) of the Government of India (GoI) or that of the small or marginal farmers as defined in the Agriculture Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme, 2008 of the GoI, or to the beneficiaries under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 Studies show that while private assets are preferred by beneficiaries, public assets benefitted a larger area and more people, leading to higher returns on investments.
Public assets are prone to destruction because of neglect in maintaining them, in the absence of strong local institutions—the classic tragedy of the commons. With defined ownership, assets on private land are relatively well taken care of and better maintained. In fact, the development of private property under the Scheme has the potential to contribute to more sustainable livelihood creation. On the other hand, community upkeep of public assets is limited, possibly due to ambiguity over ownership and usage rights.
The possible reasons for the non-maintenance of these assets could be: diffusion of benefits over a large group and less individual ownership, disproportionate benefits accrued to influential groups, or weak Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs).
Thus, the choice between the two kinds of assets, in some cases, provides for a paradox between equity (since community resources can potentially benefit more people) and effectiveness (as works on private lands appear to be better maintained and more sustainable).
On effective utilisation of resources, a similar comparison may also be drawn between creation of new assets and renovation of old assets. A study found that while creation of new assets was beneficial, investments in expanding, deepening, improving and renovating existing assets provided the highest returns; existing assets renovations had a return of 136 per cent, much higher than the return on new assets created which was 65 per cent
MULTIPLE USES OF MGNREGA ASSETS
Most assets created under MGNREGA are used for multiple purposes. As studies in Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh have shown, almost 50 per cent of the assets surveyed were designed for single-use such as, irrigation, but were de facto multiple- use structures (being used for household purposes, groundwater recharge, livestock etc.). This reflects the potential of MGNREGA to contribute to water and livelihood security in the village ecosystem. For assessing the development impact of MGNREGA assets, it is important to take into account the nature and multi-utility of each asset.
MGNREGA may be viewed as the world’s largest laboratory for community-based multi-use water services (MUS). Thus in order to quantify the impact of MGNREGA and benefits accrued, it is important to take into account the nature and multiutility of each asset. Efficient MUS also emphasises the need to strike an appropriate balance between sustainable infrastructure investments and water governance. A study conducted in Chitradurga, Karnataka, concluded that the MGNREGA activities reduced the vulnerability of agricultural production, water resources and livelihoods to uncertain rainfall, water scarcity and poor soil fertility.
LEVERAGING MGNREGA FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
MGNREGA with its inter-sectoral approach opens up opportunities for convergence with different programmes.
Andhra Pradesh: Chittoor demonstrates an example of effective convergence of MGNREGA with horticulture. Under the State’s Horticultural Programme and MGNREGA, the cumulative area under mango horticulture plantations gradually increased from less than 30,000 acres in 2007–08 to more than 70,000 acres in 2009–10. As such, Chittoor has become the highest performing district in Horticulture plantations in the state.
Madhya Pradesh: The KapildharaScheme in Madhya Pradesh is a convergence between MGNREGA, agriculture and horticulture departments. The Scheme provides farm ponds, dug wells, tanks for increasing water availability on the lands of farmers who have more than 1 hectare of land and belong to SC/ST and BPL families.
West Bengal: In Bankura, a convergence on the principles of Integrated Natural Resource Management (INRM) was taken up in MGNREGA. Landless women formed Self-Help Groups (SHGs) to lease barren land for 25 years, under a crop sharing scheme.