There have been wide-ranging discussions in recent months about the key features of an acceptable Employment Guarantee Act for rural areas.
The following is a list of 12 essential demands that have emerged from these discussions:
- Universal guarantee: All rural adults should be entitled to apply for work. There should be no eligibility condition other than willingness to perform manual work.
- Unlimited guarantee: There should be no limit on the number of days of guaranteed employment in a particular year.
- Irreversible guarantee: Once the Act comes into force in a particular area, there should be no possibility of "switching off" the employment guarantee.
- National coverage: The Act should come into force in the whole of rural India (including Class B and C Municipalities) within five years.
- Minimum wages: Labourers should be entitled to the statutory minimum wage of agricultural labourers in the relevant state, in all circumstances.
- Assured payment of unemployment allowance: The payment of the unemployment allowance should not be conditional on the government’s capacity to pay or any other criteria. Anyone who has applied for work should be entitled to the allowance, if he or she has not been given work within 15 days.
- Broad definition of permissible works: Permissible works should include all works that are "productive" in the broad sense that they contribute directly or indirectly to the increase of production, the creation or maintenance of assets, the preservation of the environment, or the improvement of the quality of life.
- Accountability to PRIs: Implementing agencies (including the "Programme Officer" and "District Coordinator") should be accountable to local elected bodies such as the District Panchayat. Gram Sabhas should play a central role in the planning and monitoring of the Employment Guarantee Schemes. At least 50 per cent of the funds disbursed for implementation of projects should be allocated to the Gram Panchayats.
- Gender equality: The Act should ensure equal wages and equal participation of women in the Employment Guarantee Programme.
- Full transparency: All the transparency provisions of the citizens’ draft should be reinstated, e.g. muster rolls should be
accessible for public scrutiny without charge and Gram Sabhas should be empowered to issue completion and utilization certificates.
- Central funding: The financial burden of the Employment Guarantee Act on State Governments should be reduced by raising the contribution of the Central Government. Also, in the event where failure to provide employment is due to the Central Government’s failure to provide the requisite funds, the unemployment allowance should be reimbursed by the Central Government to the State Government.
- Full legal safeguards: The basic entitlements of labourers and basic features of Employment Guarantee Programmes should be included in the body of the Act, rather than in "Schedules" that can be modified through "notification", without amending the Act. In addition, there is a strong demand for a similar Act to provide guaranteed employment in urban areas, as promised in the Common Minimum Programme.