MANIPUR’s Churachandpur district bordering Myanmar and Mizoram is one of the ten-top recipients of the award for good performance (2009-201) in implementing the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Under the scheme jobs were provided to 51,934 villagers and 4.8 lakh households have benefited since its introduction in 2008.
They were engaged in activities like construction of inter-village roads, making canals, flood control and anti-drought measures, water conservation, harvesting, land development and renovation of traditional water body.
The emergence of a large number of “employees” has kept the district headquarters of Lamka busy. Today on a working day one can see long queues before the State Bank of India and United Bank of India ATMs.
Holding a bank account is mandatory for every job card holder. There are also Manipur State Co-operative Bank and Lamka co-operative Bank. However, none of the revenue sub-divisions or tribal development blocks of Churachandpur, Samulamlan, Singat, Thanlon, Tipaimukh and Henglep has such facility. Comparatively, Imphal West has as many as 53 public and private banks. Tamenglong and Ukhrul have one each.
Senapati district has three. Incidentally, Senapati tops the chart in providing employment (76,859 job cards). It was also among the list of 24 recipients of NREGA Excellence Award 2008 - 2009 No “employees” were said to have lodged complaints so far in respect of non- payment of minimum equal wage. Every job card holder, man and woman, gets more than Rs 60 per day. Most workers are women, from teenagers to 70 years old.
According to the statistical data record of the Union ministry of rural development, women constitute 47.97 per cent of employment provided in the state. It is as high as 99.97 per cent in Imphal East, as low as 10.31 per cent in Ukhrul, and above 50 per cent in districts like Bishenpur and Imphal West. Chandel, Tamenglong. Senapati and Thoubal recorded between 30-50 per cent.
Living in rural areas and willingness to do unskilled work (as per schedule II section 5 of the Act) is also a boon for women as they qualify to this pre-condition for entitlement to employment guaranteed in the Act. It, therefore, facilitates more women participation and their income generation.
As per the guidelines of the Act, employment is confined to informal manual work. While most “employees / labourers” want their wages in cash (this is easier, faster and definitely simpler), formalisation/institutionalisation of wage payments through banks is sometime “unrealistic” and “chaotic.” NREGA being a rural entity, half of the workers of this rural population are not only unskilled but are also illiterate.
Work and wages apart, many NREGA sites in Churachandpur serve as places for interactions and discussions. Incidentally, “community participation’ is the key factor in recognition for the NREGA award for districts as well. In its present approach and response, it can be said that NREGA has restored the lost paradise of this once peaceful district. In 1997 Churachandpur was torn apart by ethnic clashes between majority Zomis and minority Kukis in which several innocent lives were lost. Now that peace has returned, it must be sustained through even more upgraded NREGA schemes (of wage disbursement), not only in Manipur but in other North-east states as well.