Rural ecological infrastructure in India
India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (NREGA) is a guaranteed wage employment programme that enhances the livelihood security of marginalized households in rural areas. Implemented by the Ministry of Rural Development, NREGA directly touches the lives of the poor, promotes inclusive growth, and also contributes to the restoration and maintenance of ecological infrastructure.
In its first two-and-a-half years of operation, from 2006 to 2008, NREGA generated more than 3.5 billion days of work reaching on average 30 million families per year. The programme is implemented in all 615 rural districts of the country, with women representing roughly half the employed workforce. The emphasis is placed on labour-intensive work, prohibiting the use of contractors and machinery.
Investing in ecological infrastructure
In addition to supplementing wage employment, NREGA’s secondary objective is to strengthen rural natural resource management. This is achieved by financing rural works that address causes of drought, deforestation and soil erosion, thus restoring the natural capital base on which rural livelihoods depend.
As one of the world’s leading crop producers, India has seen a surge in water consumption in the agriculture sector over the years. With industrial water consumption expected to quadruple between 2000 and 2050 as well, groundwater aquifers in the four major river basins may be depleted by half by 2050. India is moving towards water scarcity due to increasing demand and a drop in supply of clean water as well, with forecasts of even a 50 per cent deficit by 2030. Increasing water scarcity is a major constraint to agriculture and livestock production affecting livelihoods and food security.
Water conservation accounts for about half of the total projects supported under NREGA, with 850,000 water conservation works funded and completed from 2006 to 2008. For example, in the District of Jalaun (Uttar Pradesh), NREGA provided training and jobs for villagers to develop solutions to their heavily silted water harvesting infrastructure, alleviating their water shortage. In 2007-2008, more than 3,000 new soak pits, together with hand pumps were constructed. This has helped conserve an estimated 5 million litres of water.
Similarly in Andra Pradesh, NREGA supported the restoration of a network of water storage tanks dating back over 500 years in the principal arid zone. Repairs to the gates of the tanks, as well as works to desilt the channels feeding them, has restored to full capacity. This not only boosts crop and livestock production but has contributed to groundwater replenishment.
In its short history, NREGA has produced many such success stories across the country. In promoting to inclusive growth and the restoration of ecological infrastructure, the programme also has a strong impact on empowerment of poor or marginalized groups. It has contributed to boosting the average wage for agricultural labourers more than a quarter over its three-year history.
- National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Ministry of Rural Development, Department of Rural Development
- An Overview of MRD Policies & Programmes, Ministry of Rural Development
- An Opportunity for Sustainable Development through Inter-sectoral Convergence – District Level Initiatives, Ministry of Rural Development, Department of Rural Development
- The Barilla Group, The Coca-Cola Company, The International Finance Corporation, McKinsey & Company, Nestlé S.A., New Holland Agriculture, SABMiller plc, Standard Chartered Bank, and Syngenta AG, Charting Our Water Future: Economic Frameworks to Inform Decision-making, 2009.