“There are many households in our village who have NREGA cards but have not sought work for over two years,” says 32-year-old Umesh Kumar, gram pradhan of Bhainswal village, in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh. In fact, Kumar recounts having to actually go around persuading people to come for work “whenever we get projects for implementation under NREGA”. This first-time gram pradhan wonders why NREGA (which became a legislation in 2005) programmes are not geared to village development projects and why they do not provide greater work flexibility. That, above all, interests the community.
Similar instances—be they in UP, Bihar or Jharkhand—are increasingly cited by people closely involved with the implementation of UPA-1’s flagship rural employment generation programme. The whispers of discontent are becoming louder, indicating that this has the makings of a serious seven-year itch. Increasingly, the question comes up: Is the programme, promising at least 100 days of jobs for every needy rural household, beginning to lose its appeal?