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Women augment family incomes through NREGA

Jul 07, 2008

India's rural employment guarantee scheme in Tripura is giving women the opportunity to earn. While men prefer higher wages in nearby towns, the government scheme has proved to be a breather for the women in a state where two-thirds of the population is still below the poverty line.

The earthen road that connects Doctors Tilla area of Purba Barjala gram panchayat to Mandai main road in Jirania block of West Tripura district, constructed under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), was completed in August last year.

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This one kilometre long road has provided the villagers, mostly the womenfolk, immense satisfaction, not only because that they now need not walk a long distance to reach the market area, but because the construction of the road gave them an opportunity to earn.

The brick soling of the road is likely start in this year for which they are now eagerly waiting. The construction work was completed within one and half months.

For women engaged in the work, mostly belonging to the Bengali community, this provided extra earnings for their families.

Augmenting family income

In fact, ever since the NREGA schemes have been implemented in their locality, they have been able to augment their family incomes. The male folk of the village move to nearby towns in search of jobs, where they can earn between Rs 120 to Rs 150 per day on an average. Lack of job opportunities for women in the area has made them remain at home.

If NREGA schemes are meant for enhancement of family income for women in Purba Barjala village, for the tribal women belonging to Tripuri tribe in Chargharia, a village under the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), earnings under NREGA project are crucial for their living.

Be it for an increase in the family income or a crucial tool for living, Tripura engages a substantial number of women in NREGA projects as compared to other northeastern states.

In some pockets like Jirania and Dukli blocks, participation of women in NREGA works is amazing.

Jitendra Choudury, Minister for Rural Development acknowledges that the high women’s participation in NREGA schemes is a very positive aspect.

Also, the state has moved for multi-cropping agriculture practices instead of traditional single cropping, which also keeps the men busy in fields, giving women more opportunities to avail of NREGA.

Another reason is, perhaps, women feel safe at the work place in a better socio-economic environment, the minister adds. Stating that participation of women is highly encouraging he says that it would definitely give rural economy a boost in the near future.

Statistics say

A state progress report of NREGA activities has recorded percentage of person days for women as 44.51%, which is higher than the national average of 42.52%. The state has the highest record so far in terms of employing women in NREGA projects amongst the northeastern states.

In some of the major tribal states, percentage of employment for women is: Arunachal Pradesh (29.58%); Nagaland (29.36%); and, Mijoram (36.62%). In matrilineal Meghalaya, it is only 30.87% while Assam records 30.85% women employment and Manipur records 32.8%.

While Dhalai was the first to be selected for the NREGA projects in 2006-07, West and South Tripura were selected in 2007-08. The North district has been selected only in 2008-09, and works are yet to be implemented.

Aim to create permanent assets

One of the objectives of NREGA implementation projects in Tripura is creation of permanent assets by construction of road infrastructures.

The state records construction of 6,716 kilometres of road under NREGA projects in 2007-08.

In Dhalai, another 962.66 kilometres have been constructed during that year. Justifying the major thrust on road construction, the minister says that while road construction is a permanent asset building process aimed at accelerating developmental activities at grassroots, the state government has set a target that every hamlet having a population of 250 will be covered with a blacktopping road within next two years.

Apart from the road construction schemes, other projects that have a priority in NREGA schemes include water conservation and water harvesting, micro-irrigation works, renovation of traditional water-bodies, fisheries, land development, flood control and protection, culverts and RCC bridges.

Performance

In terms of performance of NREGA implementation, Tripura ranks second in the country. The ranking parameters include transparency, accountability, vigilance, monitoring, evaluation, physical performance indicator, financial performance indicator, staffing, training and others, according to NREGA guidelines.

Block Development Officer S.R. Coudhury says that the registration of families identified for job cards is done meticulously involving panchayat people and government officials in every pocket. The most laborious part is the registration – identifying right person for the job card.

The total expenditure incurred for NREGA works in the state during the year 2007-08 is 162.74 crore. The minister for rural development envisages enhancement of wages within a very short time.

“In 2006-07, we started the wage at Rs 55 in Dhalai district. This has been increased to Rs 85 per day per person during 2007-08,” he says.

Importance of NREGA

Implementation of schemes under NREGA is crucial to provide job opportunities to rural poor of Tripura as the state has a huge 66.67% people still living below poverty line, according to state government sources.

While the state economy still rests on agriculture and agriculture related activities, there is tremendous pressure of population on its soil.

About 90% of the farmers are poor and marginal and the average land holding size is only 0.97 hectare. With this small land holding, most of the rural poor have to opt for daily-wage earning sources all throughout the year.

Challenges

While NREGA implementation of the state has gained significant achievements, many job cardholders have alleged that although payment against their work is ensured, it takes prolonged period to get money after the work is completed.

In Dukil gram sabha, some women who were engaged in fishery development project have alleged that they have not received payments for the previous NREGA job.

Monmohini Debnath, the pradhan of the panchayat too says that to maintain all formalities to ensure transparency of the project work, the job card holders have to face lot of difficulties.

Only 50% of the total project cost is disbursed through gram sabhas, the remaining cost is disbursed through block and district level PRI. The money is released only after submission of the completion report of every project, which is a relatively long process. The workers hardly have the patience or can ill afford to wait so long for payments.

In this way, every job card holder has to have an account in nearby financial institutions. This often leads to complications and delay in the payment process.

The secretary of rural development identifies two more problems that hinder the success of NREGA implementation: implementing projects in insurgency hit areas and motivating the men to engage in these projects.

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