Remarks at the Opening Session of Knowledge-Sharing on the ILO/Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD)/World Bank PMGSY Programme and launch of NREGA barefoot technicians training modules, in collaboration with the Ministry of Rural Development

By Ms Sandra Polaski, Deputy Director-General (Policy) at the Opening Session of Knowledge-Sharing on the ILO/Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD)/World Bank PMGSY Programme and launch of NREGA barefoot technicians training modules, in collaboration with the Ministry of Rural DevelopmentNew Delhi, 6 October 2015

Statement | New Delhi, India | 06 October 2015
  • Honourable Minister, Ministry of Rural Development
  • Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development
  • Senior officials of Ministry of Rural Development, Line Ministries and State Governments
  • Representatives of ILO social partners
  • Friends from the media
  • Ladies and gentlemen

I would like to convey my deepest appreciation to the Honourable Minister and the Ministry of Rural Development for giving me and the ILO an opportunity to be part of your programme today.

Eight out of ten of the world’s working poor live in rural areas where the lack of opportunities for employment and decent work is pervasive. Emigration from these areas cannot be the only or even the main solution. Instead, development must include strategies to unleash the potential of rural economies. There are a number of constraints to doing this, and a key constraint is the lack of adequate infrastructure. The ILO commends the commitment of the Government of India to overcome these challenges through its many and diverse rural development programmes– which include the MGNREGA and PMGSY.

The ILO’s involvement in rural development in India is evidence of our clear recognition of the importance of achieving inclusive growth in rural areas, both for decent lives for those residents and villages and for the overall dynamism of the Indian economy. The ILO firmly believes that in order to create more decent and productive jobs, rural areas need reliable connectivity through all-weather roads as provided by the PMGSY. Meanwhile, NREGA has provided income support—indeed, an income floor—to rural residents by creating job opportunities to improve local infrastructure. These two programmes feature massive investments in rural development which creates new jobs, improves livelihoods and builds development opportunities.

A unique feature of both programmes is their ambitious goals to improve rural livelihoods across the entire nation – as opposed to a piece-meal project based approach. The challenges concerning infrastructure and employment in rural areas is faced by many middle and low income economies, but India was the pioneer in establishing programmes with national scope and based on a guaranteed, rights-based approach. These characteristics and the sheer size of the Indian programmes sends an important message to the rest of the world that such challenges, no matter how big, can be addressed when there is sufficient political will to make a change and when adequate resources are provided. And here I might add, as someone who has followed these programmes, and NREGA in particular from the early years of policy debate through implementation, that the actual cost of NREGA has been only a fraction of the dire figures projected by those who wanted to approach this path-breaking, high-impact approach.

From an ILO perspective, these programmes are critically important aspects of India’s development trajectory and we are proud and pleased to have been part of them. They also provide conceptual and practical breakthroughs in knowledge and experience that we have been eager to share with the ILO’s global constituents, particularly developing and emerging economies that are serious about tackling rural incomes and employment and rural development.

I would like to highlight two innovations that have revolutionized discussion of rural development strategies.

First, India’s MGNREGA is the only employment guarantee scheme which was launched with the commitment and right to rural employment through national legislation. As such MGNREGA is a valuable model that can be adapted to other countries with similar challenges. The more recent mobilisation of Barefoot Technicians for MGNREGA is very much in line with the ILO past experience in rural development programmes. In order to achieve quality, sustainable infrastructure, there is a need for a cadre of well-trained site supervisory staff. We would like to compliment you for your vision to start this new cadre and capability which will not only support the overall aim of creation of durable assets but also generate employment, with avenues for career progression, for a large number of women and men.

Second, concerning PMGSY, the commitments made and the clear goals articulated when they were launched is of great interest. Back in 2000, the Government decided that the PMGSY would be their main vehicle for connecting rural India with all-weather roads. Many innovative features such as its financing arrangements, planning procedures, well-defined design guidelines, the involvement of the private construction industry and adequate mobilisation of project management resources are well recognised. As a result, the PMGSY is close to reaching its goals, having built more than 400,000 km of rural roads at high standards and highly competitive costs. We acknowledge your tremendous efforts to focus now on the maintenance components of this large programme. This also has potential for creating employment opportunities for the local populations through community contracting of off-carriageway maintenance of the road assets.

It is a privilege for the ILO to be a technical partner for MORD in the implementation of these programmes. Our technical collaboration is also a great opportunity to explore the diversity of this nation, since the ILO has been engaged with State Governments across the country. All these States have specific challenges and they also experiment and devise unique solutions. In effect, this creates a natural laboratory of policy and practice, with the best solutions inspiring application elsewhere. Working with the state authorities gives more dimensions to our collaboration, widens our common experience and produces more valuable lessons that can be shared not only within India, but with the global audience that is hungry for good and practical ideas for rural development.

Improving rural infrastructure and rural employment are recognised by both the ILO and the Government of India as fundamental requirements for reaching several of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals. The technical products from MGNREGA and PMGSY are therefore being incorporated in ILO guidelines and programmes for the purpose of providing quality technical assistance in other parts of the world.

Facilitating South to South experience exchange is playing a growing role in the ILO’s technical cooperation programme. We firmly believe that facilitating better access to the innovative “made in India” programmes will add value to future development assistance worldwide. We look forward to seeing India continue to partner up with the ILO at home as well as overseas to bring all of its expertise in rural development, as well as in other fields, to South-South knowledge sharing and experience exchange.

Thank you very much to the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, for this most valuable partnership.

I would also like to thank the continuous support of the ILO’s nodal Government partner in India, the Ministry of Labour and Employment, which has been invaluable throughout. We often talk about “policy coherence” as governments and international organizations undertake complex challenges. This partnership has ensured that these words are translated into action in India, a Founding Member of the ILO.

I would also like to acknowledge the World Bank’s support, through a unique partnership facilitated by the Government of India, for ILO’s collaboration with the PMGSY.

Last but not the least, I wish to congratulate the dedicated teams from both the Central and State governments and from the ILO both in India and in our headquarters for all of the collaborative efforts, leading to the completion of many valuable technical products.

Congratulations and thanks to everyone here.