India is not a nation of freeloaders. We wrested our freedom from the British through pure tenacity and it is this very tenacity that runs in our blood to this very day. Our farmers, labourers, artisans, craftsmen, and the rest of the working class are a classic example of this. Our greatest strength has been our labour force that is willing to work hard, work sincerely, and work well every single day.
It was this rock-solid work ethic that NREGA – a program the World Bank calls “a stellar example of rural development” – tapped into. People were suffering not due to a lack of skill or fear of hard work, but a lack of opportunity to do so. So, in 2005, we developed a scheme to remove this barrier and demonstrate the Congress’s approach towards social welfare.
NREGA represents the Congress’s commitment to a decentralised policy structure by allowing the Panchayati system to implement the policy specifics. It also personifies our bottom up approach to policy making – NREGA was implemented after a Congress worker presented his findings of a smaller scale NREGA style policy that was carried out in his district. NREGA has been created to provide the people with a fundamental right – the right to work and to provide for themselves, their families and escape the clutches of poverty.
We placed our faith in our fellow Indians, and they have not let us down. Since its inception, NREGA has had a transformational impact on our rural economy. Every year, this scheme has provided employment to over 5 crore households, on average. The average wage earned by a citizen for a day’s work has gone up by 81%. Marginalised communities have benefited – women account for 47% and those from the SC and ST communities for 51% of total person-days of work generated- well above the 33% baseline standard we set for ourselves.
The scheme has worked due to two reasons – our faith in the grit and determination of Indians and because we put our money where our mouth is. We invested Rs. 35,000 crore in our people, offering them opportunities to earn an honest living. As we expected, they turned out in record numbers to do so.
A recent Brookings report revealed India no longer holds the dubious distinction of being home to the largest number of poor people and has moved down in the global poverty rankings. The report credits this achievement to the foresight of former PM Dr. Manmohan Singh and his economic policies that helped the India experience rapid growth between 2004 and 2011. It also credits the massive reduction of poverty to NREGA, which has prevented over 14 crore Indians from falling into a life of poverty and reduced poverty by 32%.
Our country is on the precipice of achieving unimaginable success and there is plenty of work to be done – NREGA, too, must evolve with the people it serves. The Congress party since its inception has evolved with the changing times and the changing needs of the people. Today our greatest need is to create a jobs for our growing working population and NREGA, is one means to fulfil that need.