ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in Birbhum

This study of the functioning of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme between February 2006 and July 2009 in Birbhum district, West Bengal reveals that in order to serve as an effective "employer of last resort", the programme should provide proportionately more job-days during the agricultural lean season and wages should be paid in a timely manner.

One of the four goals of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is the provision of a “strong social safety net for the vulnerable groups by providing a fall-back employment source, when other employment alternatives are scarce or inadequate” (MoRD 2008: 1). Several papers have examined pertinent aspects of the functioning of the programme, such as targeting (Jha et al 2009), its impact on consumption (Ravi and Engler 2009), and its performance in terms of implementation (Bhatia and Dreze 2006; Ambasta et al 2008; IAMR 2008). This article is motivated by the goal stated above and is concerned with examining whether the employment guarantee scheme serves as a social safety net by providing a source of employment when other alternatives are limited. In particular, to serve as an effective “employer of last resort”, the programme should be providing (1) proportionately more job-days during the agricultural lean season, and (2) wages should be paid in a timely manner. Accordingly, this article focuses on whether these conditions are being met and at the same time comments on other aspects of the functioning of the NREGA in West Bengal’s Birbhum district.

Birbhum district. While publicly available statistics 1 show the large gap between the number of employment days generated and the legally mandated threshold in West Bengal, this article goes beyond such comparisons by analysing the timing of job-creation over the year. Similarly, while several papers (Bhatia and Dreze 2006; Ambasta et al 2008) have commented on the delays in wage payments, we go beyond noting such delays by explicitly identifying the time lag between commencement of work and payment of wages and pinpointing the source of delay in the wage payment chain.

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