Montek Singh Ahluwalia with his grandson at law minister Salman Khurshid’s house in New Delhi on Saturday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, July 14: The Prime Minister today expressed surprise that “concurrent evaluation” of the rural job scheme was “not in good shape” and asked Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia to “apply his mind to making good this deficiency”.
Concurrent evaluation is an assessment of a scheme’s impact, strength and weaknesses while it is being implemented, as distinct from the annual CAG audit or a post-mortem. Its objective is to identify problems or bottlenecks and suggest immediate remedies.
Manmohan Singh made it clear he was not “fully satisfied” with the way the flagship programme, implemented under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), was progressing. He noted problems such as delayed payment to workers and said these should be addressed at the earliest.
Singh, who released the “NREGA Sameeksha”, a collection of studies on the scheme, said he was “surprised to hear from (rural development minister) Jairam Ramesh that concurrent evaluation proceses are not in good shape”.
“When I was in the Planning Commission (as its deputy chairman) long ago (1985-87), I think we had started the programme of concurrent evaluation for a number of programmes of rural development. I don’t know why they are languishing, if they are at all languishing. But I would request Montek to apply his mind to making good this deficiency as well,” Singh said.
Both Ramesh and Ahluwalia were at the event.
Concurrent evaluation is supposed to be carried out by independent experts appointed by the Planning Commission, but sources said the practice was discontinued in the 1990s. It’s not done any more and Singh was perhaps being polite in saying it is “not in good shape”, they said.
Referring to delayed wages, Singh said: “The sooner we tackle this problem of delayed payments, I think better results would be in the offing.”
Rural development ministry sources said the absence of concurrent evaluation meant problems such as delayed wages and job card irregularities were not coming to light immediately.
A concurrent evaluation “would be helpful to policymakers to intervene on real-time basis”, Ramesh had earlier written to Singh. He stressed the point today, asking his ministry be allowed to start a concurrent evaluation network with experts, social activists and research organisations for day-to-day monitoring of schemes.
The Sameeksha also contains an admission by Ramesh about the scheme’s implementation being affected by factors such as “misappropriation of funds and resources, and leakages”.
Planning Commission member Mihir Shah told The Telegraph the panel had initiated steps to have a mechanism for concurrent evaluation.
“There are plans to start an independent evaluation office (EAO) in the commission: the cabinet has given its approval. The EAO will have distinguished experts on evaluation who will engage with expert groups or organisations,” Shah said.
He said the plan panel was looking for a person with “outstanding expertise” to head the EAO, and added that Ramesh’s ministry could start its own concurrent evaluation network if it wanted.
Singh took note of Ramesh’s statement in the Sameeksha that the scheme was perhaps the “largest and most ambitious” social security and public works programme in the world.
The Prime Minister pointed out that nearly 5.50 crore families — nearly one in four rural households — had been provided over 250 crore person-days of work under the programme.
He said the safety net provided by the scheme had helped rural India cope with frequent distress situations and natural disasters.
“The combined effect of expanded agricultural production, demand for labour from the construction sector and the effect of MGNREGA has led to tightening of the market for agricultural labour and a steady rise in real wages. Farmers sometimes complain about this. But rising demand for labour is the only way to help the landless improve their standard of living,” Singh said.
He said that according to a study, a silent revolution was taking place among rural women thanks to the scheme.
“Wage disparities are being reduced and women are coming out more in the public sphere to take up work and interact with banks, post offices and government officials. This has done wonders for their self-confidence and given them a greater say in financial matters of the household,” he said.