Terming NREGA as a "story worth telling", Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the issue of delayed payment to workers under the programme should be addressed at the earliest and sought concurrent audit of rural development schemes.
"I am surprised to hear from (Rural Development Minister) Jairam Ramesh that concurrent evaluation processes are not in good shape. When I was in the Planning Commission long ago, I think we have started the programme of concurrent evaluation for number of programmes of rural development.
"I don't know why they are languishing, if they are at all languishing. But I would request Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia to apply his mind to making good this deficiency as well," he said.
Both Jairam Ramesh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia were present at the programme.
Montek Singh was addressing a programme in New Delhi to mark the release of 'MGNREGA Sameeksha', an anthology of research study on UPA's flagship scheme.
He termed the compendium an "innovative way" of looking at development projects. Manmohan Singh said NREGA was UPA government's most popular and successful flagship programme.
Prime Minister Singh said the safety net provided by the scheme has helped rural India cope with the frequent distress and natural disasters.
"The combined effect of expanded agricultural production, demand for labour from the construction sector and the effect of MGNREGA has led to tightening of the market for agricultural labour and a steady rise in real wages. Farmers sometimes complain about this. But rising demand for labour is the only way to help the landless improve their standard of living," Manmohan Singh said.
He said the Panchayati Raj institutions have to gear themselves to play a central role assigned to them under the scheme and stressed the need to provide the resources to help panchayats to perform the function effectively.
"If these local bodies can rise to the challenge, MGNREGA can very well become a silver bullet for India's rural renewal," he said.
Manmohan Singh felt designing more flexible and community based approaches was a major challenge before policy makers to encourage implementing agency to be innovative and responsive to local needs.
Referring to the issue of gender equality, Manmohan Singh said according to a study a silent revolution is taking place among rural women due to NREGA.
"Wage disparities are being reduced and women are coming out more in the public sphere to take up work and interact with banks, post offices and government officials. This has done wonders for their self-confidence and given them a greater say in financial matters of the household," he said.
Speaking on the occasion, Ramesh said while audits, investigations and "post mortems" take place, they were no substitute to concurrent audit and hoped his proposal to the Planning Commission to put in place dedicated network for the same is approved.
He felt that the concurrent audit should be handled by independent evaluation office to be set up under the plan panel.
He said in an effort to strengthen the capacity of Panchayati Raj institutions through investment in technology, his Ministry was ready to give some money from NREGA funds to the Panchayati Raj Ministry. He said "bureaucratic problems" like transferring funds from one ministry to the other could be settled.