Four months after the launch of the landmark job guarantee scheme, a nationwide study reveals that only 30% of those registering for the scheme have received job cards. Women, minorities, the elderly and the physically-challenged are not even being allowed to register

Discrimination on the basis of caste, community, gender, disability and a general lack of awareness are hampering the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), an 11-state study by the civil society organisation Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) has shown.

The results of the study come just days after media reports on the government’s showpiece project revealed that Muslims in Gujarat were being denied access to the job guarantee scheme.

A field survey by PRIA and its partner organisations in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal revealed that while there was large-scale registration for jobs, less than 30% got the crucial job cards.

Another major problem was low public awareness of the scheme — in Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh, for instance, only 7% of respondents had proper information about the scheme.

A gender bias was also apparent in the implementation of the scheme since women wishing to register for jobs faced much opposition. And in Sabarkantha district in Gujarat, the old and physically challenged were not even provided with registration forms.

The survey also found village heads guilty of misusing their power, with people with ties to the sarpanch (village headman), panchayats secretary and officials appearing to have benefited more than villagers.

In Rajasthan, elected panchayats functionaries are either ignorant or kept out of the exercise for the scheme's execution, despite the Rajasthan government’s claim of having achieved decentralisation of democracy.

PRIA’s coordinator for Rajasthan, Anju Dwivedi said that the facts and figures generated from the field showed that people in many panchayats knew very little about the scheme in entirety. "The ignorance pervades all the three tiers of Panchayati Raj institutions."

The role of panchayats envisaged in the NREGS pertains to planning of work, registering households, issuing job cards, allocating employment, executing 50 % of the work and monitoring and implementation of the scheme.

PRIA has expressed the concern that in the absence of aware elected representatives, empowered gram sabhas and active citizens, the best-designed development schemes such as NREGS could meet a "pathetic end".

The organisation presented its findings at the National Consultation on Implementation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act held in New Delhi on June 1, at which the India’s Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar was also present.

Reacting to the feedback from representatives of Panchayati Raj institutions (PRIs) during an interactive session, the minister conceded that each state had different problems in implementation of the NREGS and these would be scrutinised for corrective measures.

Aiyar called upon the representatives of the PRIs to remain vigilant about their rights under the scheme to get the maximum benefits out of it. He also asked them to display portions of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act to publicise the programme. Besides government agencies, non-governmental organisations could contribute significantly to creating awareness among the masses of the job scheme, he said.

The minister said that mere registration for the scheme was not enough; the PRI representatives must ensure that job cards were issued to employment seekers.