Independent India has to acknowledge the critical role the NREGA has played in providing a measure of inclusive growth. It has given people a right to work, to re-establish the dignity of labour, to ensure people’s economic and democratic rights and entitlements, to create labour intensive infrastructure and assets, and to build the human resource base of our country. For the first time, the power elite recognises the people’s right to fight endemic hunger and poverty with dignity, accepting that their labour will be the foundation for infrastructure and economic growth. The entitlements paradigm is still to be established in many States in the country. Second generation issues like the expansion of the categories of permissible works needs to be taken up with labour and the deprived continuing to be the central focus. The improvements must be to strengthen, not divert from these basic tenets. In the midst of the current economic slowdown, there is enough evidence that this kind of commitment can work to help reduce the slowdown.
The political class would do well to understand that the most important solution is an assertion of its will to respond to people’s voices. The many wise, creative, and innovative initiatives emerging from theory and practice have a future only if they are owned by the people and implemented with justice. The NREGA can give people an opportunity to make the entire system truly transparent and accountable. Properly supported, people’s struggles for basic entitlements can, in turn, become the strongest political initiative to strengthen our democratic fabric.