IIT Mandi and NIRDPR conduct a study to document best practices under MGNREGA in Himachal Pradesh

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Mandi: The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mandi recently collaborated with the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR) for conducting a study on the successful implementation of MGNREGA in several districts of Himachal Pradesh. The study titled ‘Documentation of Successful Practices and Scalable Models under MGNREGA in Himachal Pradesh’ sought to identify and delineate the practices and processes responsible for the successful implementation of MGNREGA in the diverse areas of the State.

The topography of Himachal Pradesh, the climate, culture and agricultural cycles, in addition to the relative absence of industrial factories that are the mainstay of urban employment in several other States sets the Himachal region apart from the rest of the country. Since the inception of MGNREGA, the State has been ahead of many others on parameters such as the number of people registered, person-days generated and increasing participation of women etc. Himachal Pradesh has successfully met some of the core objectives of MGNREGA including inter alia rural asset creation, micro-watershed development, checking urban migration, empowering women, and uplifting scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, economically and socially backward sections. The State has been honoured with several national awards for its exceptional participation in the MGNREGA scheme.

Elaborating on the role of NIRDPR in the study, Prof. S. Jyothis, Head, Centre for Wage Employment, NIRDPR said, “The study is supported by NIRDPR under the Annual Action Plan of the MGNREGS, Ministry of Rural Development, which reveals that MGNREGS in Himachal Pradesh is not only efficient and effective in terms of building infrastructure, natural and social capital at grassroots level, but also in helping in decentralized governance and women empowerment. The inputs from the study are also used in the course materials for MGNREGS capacity building programmes at the Centre for Wage Employment, NIRDPR.”

This study found that the impact of MGNREGA can be observed most significantly in the lives of women in Mandi district of the State. The scheme has helped address the issue of financial dependence of women in the rural areas by providing them with an individual source of income that also led to a gradual increase in their self-confidence. About 75% of the work under the MGNREGA in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh was executed through women as against the national average of 48% in the country. Further, in certain panchayats in the district, women brought about a ban on liquor through the rapport they had built by working under MGNREGA and the subsequent creation of women’s groups.

A good example of convergence stemmed from the issue of severe water shortages for irrigation and domestic use faced by the people of the Nihri village. The solution to this was arrived at through the collective efforts of MGNREGA and the Irrigation and Public Health (IPH) department of the State.

The mutual cooperation and trust demonstrated between the panchayat officials and villagers has been instrumental in the success of MGNREGA in Himachal Pradesh. An example of this cooperation was documented during the attempts of the people of Lambathach panchayat to build a footbridge on the Chaddhi khad rivulet that becomes extremely fierce during monsoons and is the only passage to five villages. After having failed three to four times, the panchayat officials and villagers came together to devise a strategy to complete the construction of the bride in time, before the onset of the next monsoon. The labour put in extra hours and worked beyond their 100 days’ requirement sometimes without wages, while the panchayat officials ensured the availability of raw materials in time and shared some of the expenses from their own pockets.

The Kangra district became the first district in the country to geotag 100% of the assets under MGNREGA, remarkably within one month of its declaration. This is despite the fact that a significant part of the district lies in the mid or high Himalayas and some parts do not even have road connectivity.

The findings of the study indicate that MGNREGA has been instrumental in changing the lives of the rural people in Himachal Pradesh. The transformations are visible not just in the sheer numbers of check dams, land development projects, footpaths, garbage pits, school buildings, Anganwadi and Mahila Mandal buildings and other infrastructures, but also in the quality of life of the people. There has been a significant impact on the lives of women and the underprivileged sections of the society.

Speaking about the relevance of the study, Dr. Ramna Thakur, Assistant Professor at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences IIT Mandi said,“There was a great need to document successful practices and the mitigation strategies in MGNREGA in Himachal Pradesh to encourage others to treat MGNREGA as a sustainable way to uplift the rural livelihoods, and to change the face of rural India.”

Some recommendations as well have stemmed from this study, which take into account the unique socio-geographical landscape of the region. Given that the winter months (December to February) are a lean period in agriculture, MGNREGA must provide more work opportunities during this period such that the local people do not feel compelled to travel long distances for seeking employment. In addition, introducing skilled work under MGNREGA will allow the educated population to put their skills to better use. Integration of a skills development component into MGNREGA will also achieve the twin objectives of imparting work-specific training and addressing the paradox of educated, skilled people engaged in unskilled manual work. Finally, targeted awareness campaigns will be crucial in ensuring the local people know about the MGNREGA scheme and the benefits under it, as well as help reduce any stigma associated with unskilled manual labour.