Rahul Gandhi’s “right to” approach doesn’t work

This World Bank book on MGNREGA once again exposes the limitations of the legislative route to development

Knowledge is lower for women than for men, and higher for those who are better educated. The sharing of information between men and women within the household appears to be weak. There are also strong village effects on knowledge about the scheme. Holding constant individual and household characteristics, levels of awareness of the scheme are lower in villages with higher inequality and where there are more signs of tension between different social groups. The characteristics of the village leader (such as whether he or she lives in the village) also matter.

Yet another example of the limitation of the “right to” approach. When even this legislation, ten years old, suffers from poor awareness amongst the poor, what makes us expect any better from the other legislations – food/education/etc? No programme has generated more interest and activity at the district-level or the Panchayat-level; most District Collectors have virtually turned into MGNREGA implementers more than anything else. One can even argue that the law is amongst the more straightforward ones, with the registration, job request and payment mechanisms being relatively simple. Of course, because of the volume of funds involved here, it is also the one scheme most prone to serious ground-level corruption. Even so…

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3 thoughts on “Rahul Gandhi’s “right to” approach doesn’t work

  1. “One can even argue that the law is amongst the more straightforward ones, with the registration, job request and payment mechanisms being relatively simple.”

    An equally important argument is that even if you think that the law is straightforward, its implementation has been anything but: there are all sorts of failures with regard to access to registration, actually being offered the amount of days of work that are promised, accurate and timely payment, etc. And it should come as no surprise that there is massive variation in these aspects as well as in results across states. (Here is one of a litany of sources highlighting these failures: http://www.effective-states.org/wp-content/uploads/briefing_papers/final-pdfs/esid_bp_1_NREGA.pdf).

    Rights are great, but they become hollowed out both conceptually and practically when the actions of the state don’t provide substance to undergird them.

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    • Couldn’t agree more. The challenges with implementation was the basis for my comments…and given that the NREGA laws are simpler than many others, it only highlights how governments cannot get away from the grind of implementation.

      One of the problems with the current government has been an excessive focus on legislations at the cost of attention to implementation details. I had this column earlier, on implementation capacity and how that is (not) factored into lawmaking.
      http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/TihsQ1BILPL1CY3sH0raiM/The-consequences-of-ignoring-implementation-capacity.html
      The recent budget announcements of passing on a greater chunk of the funds to the states is a welcome move, I think. I have a forthcoming livemint column on that subject

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  2. Indeed–hence the proliferation of “Right to [fill in the blank]” bills. I imagine the allure is quick political points while riding out any backlash that may arise down the road due to poor implementation, but it seems as though that strategy is working less and less.

    The link you posted is great–I highlighted some similar issues a few months ago with respect to the cash transfer scheme in particular:

    http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2013/aug/19/india-cash-transfer-welfare

    Agreed on the decentralization of finance to the state level, although even that has elements of “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Look forward to your column on the subject.

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