The Shameless Jean Drèze

Jean Drèze is a real piece of work. He writes a “response”  to criticism of the NREGS, half of which involves attacking the motives of the critics, and the other  half involves admitting to everything that the critics are saying. 

In particular, this paragraph is brilliant:

The latest wave of anti-NREGA propaganda in the mainstream media focussed on a draft report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). This report was highlighted in two successive front-page articles published in one of India’s leading dailies, with headlines such as: “It’s Official: In Poorest States, Job Funds Don’t Reach the Poor.” This statement, and variants of it printed in this article and elsewhere, give a very misleading picture of the CAG report. Indeed, the report does not present any evidence of massive leakages in the NREGA, nor was this the objective of the investigation. The main focus of the report is on the conformity of the programme with the provisions of the Act as well as with the operational guidelines. The report points out, quite rightly, that the guidelines are routinely violated. This applies, in particular, to the transparency safeguards, making the programme vulnerable to leakages.

Quite right. Accurate, but fake. Obviously, the Comptroller and Auditor general is an auditor. His job is not to determine the facts on the ground, but to check whether the internal mechanisms to determine the facts on the ground are followed. 

Let me explain with an example. Organizations maintain inventories – of raw materials, finished products, etc. An auditor will not physically visit the factory floors to check if the inventory recorded is correct. He will check for records of inventory. He will check if the policies for periodic inventory-taking are followed. He will try to determine if the checks and balances are adequate and are adequately practised.

If an auditor finds massive gaps in the records, in theory it does not mean that the organization’s employees are swindling it.  It could mean that everyone is honest, but a bad record keeper.

In practice, such an explanation would be rightly laughed off. In fact, we would rightly consider the situation to be much worse than what the auditor’s report says. That is because in a company where most employees are dishonest, they could all collude to prepare fake records which are consistent with each other. If the records are perfect, the auditor will never know that the facts on the ground are rotten. This is much more true in non-profit situations than in profit-seeking companies, because it is much tougher to fake your bank accounts or sales revenues.

So, when the CAG says that the average job-seeker gets only 18 days of work instead of 100, we should realize that this is only what the records say. In practice, much of those 18 days will be fake, but consistent records of payments to the poor. So, the situation is likely to be much worse than what the CAG’s report says.  It is utterly shameless of Drèze to accuse critics of exaggerating the import of the CAG’s report, and it is utterly shameless of him to say “A large proportion of these funds does reach, and makes a big difference to the lives of, the rural poor.” – with absolutely no evidence, of course.

32 thoughts on “The Shameless Jean Drèze

  1. Slightly off topic (relating to your example, not to the crux of the post)
    Auditors are supposed to do random checking of inventory to ensure consistency. (Of course, for inventory that can be checked randomly.)

    “In practice, much of those 18 days will be fake, but consistent records of payments to the poor. So, the situation is likely to be much worse than what the CAG’s report says.”

    On topic, there is a possibility that the situation could be better, simply due to the leakage itself. Dishonest people buying more with the money, spending more on consumption leading to more jobs etc. As long as the transactions happen, employment (the Keynesian kind) would happen. The problem is (IMO) when the Gormint does not allow others to fulfill this demand.

    But I am not an economist. I am just a humble, abused taxpayer. I only choose which set of thieves will loot me over the next five years-or less.

  2. Hi Ravi,

    I dont who you are, and what your understanding of the EGA is. Would definitely like to get an understanding, since this would go a long way in establishing your credibility in being able to call someone “shameless”. Especially when you are speaking of a highly celebrated economist such as Jean Dreze.

    The reason why I call him celebrated is not because I belong to the clan of the “jhola-wala economists”. In fact, I have an MBA from a top school and work with a strategy consulting firm. However, I believe that besides other things, if a professor co-authors books with nobel prize winners such as Amartya Sen and has been part of the various prestigious advisory councils, I am sure he definitely can’t be considered passable and his views (and he) should be respected – if not blindly accepted (which I am strongly against). Therefore I ask for your credentials – especially regarding the EGA which you have so strongly emphasised your expertise about.

    As far as I am concerned, I have tried to learn about this “revolutionary” act by having gone to some villages and seen some of the work sites. I have seen some of the the “transparency safeguards” that Prof Dreze refers to (read social audits). Since you have demonstrated your expertize on the EGA by writing a scathing criticism of one of its founding architects, I feel no need to explain the concept of the social audit here and the tremendous success that it has led to in ensuring transparency.

    However, I am sure Prof Dreze and many of the other architects of the act would disagree with my statement above. They would say that this is an overly optimistic statement, and would try to average out the tone. But from where I come from, and from what I have seen, there is no doubt that these methods have caused …correction, are causing a tremendous difference on the ground. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is perhaps the next revolution after independence in our country. And why is that – largely because of the fact that the things are improving on the ground. Perhaps not in all areas where the act has been implemented – but most definitely in many.

    You want “evidence” of the fact that the rural poor are being impacted positively by the EGA – I havent read the CAG report so am not sure whether it has mentioned any positive statistics about the EGA or not (I would be suprised if it hasnt). However, I would suggest that you travel to any village in Rajasthan (thats where I went) and see the responses. I am sure that the number of villages with negative reponses will be countered with as many positive responses. This is exactly the reason why people like Jean Dreze are saying that you can’t be overly optimistic (or overly pessimistic) about the act yet – but as far as I’m concerned, I think its a fantastic beginning.

    Furthermore, since you have exhibited your grasp on the subject, I’m sure you would also have an idea of the ongoing modifications in the act based on the villager’s feedbacks, such as the current recommendations towards classifying “mates” as skilled labourers and making payments through banks / post offices. What I am trying to show here are the formalized processes of modification that the act / movement has built into itself during implementation, which thus (in my books) gives it an even higher chance of succeeding than any other scheme till date.

    The problem with our media, as Prof Dreze writes, is that it is controlled by the corporate sector, which is against anything which smells like socialism. Various political commentators have also said that the problem with our country is that we have too many opinions – maybe its the unsubstantiated and uninformed versions of them residing on impersonal blogs such as these which are the real problem.

    I look forward to hearing from you.


  3. well…i really find it beyond my understanding that you are ready to lambast both an honoured professor as well as a significant piece of legislation on grounds as flimsy as your beliefs about inherent inaccuracies in auditors’ reports. In my mind this is another of those unnecessary exercises of extrapolation, where vague knowledge is sought to be extended to myriad topics for equally vague reasons. If you are such an ardent non-believer in the Act, i would advise you to go and see the worksites and the villagers yourself. I have been there and can vouch for the fact that they do see it as uplifting. Even in Bihar, where we did see a lot of inadequacies, people looked at the NREGA with lots of hope and even optimism, not to talk of more successful areas like Rajasthan. Expecting the Act to work as quick as your computer buzzes on is at best foolhardy.Drawing room remarks don’t help anybody, least of all when they are littered with obnoxious words like ‘shameless’.

  4. Hi.
    Perhaps a field visit during an ongoing social audit might opden up a new perspective for you. I have been to some and you will realise that not only is it empowering the intended beneficiaries of the NREGA, it is also empowering those who are conducting it.

    Both learn to ask searching questions from those governing them, in their name. This is how functioning democracies should be at every level.

    As regards Jean dreze, perhaps studying some of his owrks (‘Hunger and Public Action’ is an excellent example) will give you a fair idea of the kind of rigorous research and data that he brings into every stated position. Not only does Prof Dreze bring in statistical and empirical data that is quantified mathematically, he also brings in that rarely quality that other econmists might lack…he lives the experience as much as the subjects of his study. Perhaps a field visit with him might help you see that perspective to you as well.

    A visit to Sanjay basti, a slum tucked away behind Delhi University’s North campus might help you understand Prof Dreze’s work. He lives there in a one room tenement that he calls home. Perhaps it might help you be cautious about making any hasty judgements.

    Ironically, by posting this blog, you have done the same mistake that you accuse him of…using faulty data to support a faulty premise.

    warm regards

  5. yea dude, at the very least read up on what he’s being doing.

    you won’t find them on our so called “national dailies”, but just look out for him in the regional newspapers. he’s been quite active in that front. meeting villagers, conducting surveys of the work done so far.

    in fact, his own criticisms of the NREGA are much more illuminating about the challenges facing rural empowerment.

    your rant is rather mindless.

  6. Interesting article, I am writing my thesis on the NREGA so I find the debate fascinating and am slightly surprised that it arouses any interest outside development circles.

    I do think it is disingenous though to criticise Dreze to questioning the motives of the NREGA critics; having seen journalists and economists up close on the issue it is naive to think that their motivations are not motivated by hostility towards the scheme. Many economists in the business press who rubbished the scheme by inflating how much it would cost and how it would bankrupt the state have now been made to look a little foolish (not that the mainstream media has noted this).

    Also while I agree that Dreze doesn’t offer any countervailing statistics and evidence of the same depth as the CAG report – how could he also since he doesn’t run a well funded autonomous and powerful institution like the CAG’s office to look into these things. He has been involved in undertaking several social audits of the programme and they have yielded a mixed picture. And this is perhaps the most important thing about the NREGA and most rural development programmes – they are implemented by the state govts. not by the centre and as we know state govts. vary immensely in the quality of administration. The odd thing about the NREGA is that it has been implemented quite successfully in some states like Rajasthan and MP but poorly in others like UP and Bihar. So the decisive factor in my view on how a programme like the NREGA works is the type and quality of the state-level administration and how seriously the govt at this level takes the programme.

    Lastly, Dreze alludes to but then glosses over the real revolutionary impact of the NREGA – it isn’t meant to be just another job employment programme but a legal right. In other words the right to work isn’t meant to be some sort of favour given by the local pradhan or BDO but is meant to be something that every labourer can demand from the local government – this is meant to give a confidence and stability to the rural poor that they have not enjoyed for a long time as well as transform power relations at the local level. I would argue that this is probably the most innovative part of the Act and it is here that the real success or failure of the programme must be judged. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be close to achieving this yet.

  7. it is shameless for the guys those who are arsing a point of shameless on jean dreaz. i have some few questions to this so called comenttaors :

    – do you have ever gone through once in details on NREGA (ACT,Guidelines) and its Viability ?

    _ have u ever been any of rural areas where NREGA is implementing and interacted with the laborers ?

    it is so easy to analyse any happenings but hard task to work on it. despite of problemtiseing one’s dedication, one should put an effort to a better understanding on issues of rural labors since independence. NREGA has become a ray hope for the rural poor. before commenting on prof. dreaz, one should analyse indian governments differnt rural development programmes and their sucess rate. as because i belong to rural village of india, i can damly says that NREGA is a better tahn other employment prog.. 100 days entitlemnt may be a discussion but this act such a way has been designed , it can ensure grassroot level democracy.

    here, the point is dreaz statemnts is both side means anti and pro. i will say , this a reality of an economist. what ever he saw, he would consider as fact. for the betterment of rural labor class of india ” improvement in NREGA can be a better solution.

  8. Who is this moron making irresponsible statements? Why do we need ill-informed commentators like these? Surely an arm-chair critic sitting on his backside all day.

  9. Hi,

    Have gone thru different comments mentioned related to Prof Dreze and NREGA. It reminds me of the “Jan Manch” held in the month of March’09 at Constitutional Club in Delhi attended by me, where i got a chance to hear Prof Dreze and his thoughts on NREGA. My understanding goes for Prof Dreze as a visionary and an honest social worker than a professor. He who believes strongly in reforms that all of us expect to see one day for our country. I believe every one of us should meet him once to understand what NREGA is and how is it working in our country, in its true sense.


  10. It is really shameful to read such a comment that too about the man behind this Act.Istead of thanking him for this Act,you are making such callous remark.I have been to villages in Rajasthan and unlike you Mr.Rao,the villagers are very happy with the Act.I salute Prof.Dreze for his endless effort for the poors.

  11. brilliant. Finally the missionary is being exposed. He has close links with sonia. he is a belgium national. came to india for promoting conversion

  12. for so called nrega experts commenting on the greatnes of hollow economist, it will be great if they share their profile instead of mentionning i visted here and there. they all are shit nothing else.

  13. Dear Sandeep,

    I had met Prof. Dreze a couple of times, and found him to be sincere in his approach towards NREGA, and developmental Economics. We may avoid statements like ‘conversion’, ‘proximity to sonia’ etc, as they dont add to our knowledge of isssues discussed here.

    Oh, yes, i agree with you on the fact that, our friends who comment here reveal their profile so that we can relate to their comments in a better way.

    I work as the DM of Mysore district and belong to 98′ batch of the ias. Cheers.

  14. My comments are not about Prof Dreze, it is about NRGEA.

    As part of the project work for my daughter i got interested in this programme.
    I have met and interviewed some of the beneficiaries of the NRGEA in a remote village in the Krishnagiri District of Tamilnadu.

    This has transformed their lives and I was pleasantly surprised that they are investing in LIC policies with the additional income.

    I also hear from the landowners, who do not like the NRGEA as the wages has been pushed up for the labour.

    It has been on of the well intended programme and as with any item the implementation is the key. In some states like Tamilnadu the implementation is excellent. And it shows in the villages and their lives.

  15. hello ravi,
    since you do not know the ground realities , you cant digest it ..
    the ppl like Jean are real Gem, at least his work is reflecting in the good of the mojority poor’s of the world .. its easy for you to comment on his work …
    there are the areas of india which can be called as sub-saharan states ..but due to the apathy of the gov and others like you who either cant work-for or cant let others to work ..try to spread the lie’s …

  16. I’m really amazed at how you could make such sweeping statements without yourself have ever set foot in the aforementioned ‘affected areas’. Just for your information Prof. Dreze has more than enough evidence to back up what he’s saying, after having spent many months (as he still continues to do) on the field, seeing the implementation of the Law, first hand

  17. The point of contention is the execution of the plan.
    The purpose of NREG being economic upliftment of the unemployed.
    The data on the economic security of the NREGS reveals a passable increase.
    The results of the NREGS are not comparable to the expenses.
    The rural economy has surely boomed on the money fudged by the contactors.
    From the labourers point of you, if u give a penny to a man who had nothing, it is for sure he will be happy, but the point is he does not know that he was alloted five pennies and the rest were kept by the man who gave him, this wont make him happy. Besides the easy flow of money is gravely setting up a goverment official and contractor nexus, in case NREG has to be removed this nexus will exploit the labourers farther to their benefit. NREG is an ambitious dream which might end up Frankestein. After all it is tax payers money which is being spent, as far as being with labourers, with whom i share the a glass of local rice wine have their own apprehensions, they are not happy.It is sad in the fight of the names let it be Dreze, the poor man is loosing. Dreze has execution problems, my analysis of a district reveals that the program has surely helped the govt officials and the contractors to afford new luxuries of life,
    Nreg has surely been a boon for the middlemen and they make their full efforts to let it run as nobody likes to kill a golden hen. Had dreze afforded the luxury of life, he would have designed a shrewd execution policy thwarting the middlemen and benefit to the real claimers. But sad Dreze gains prize in his shanty, about the labourers i have stayed with them ate, drank and slept with them and i do understand them. India has the capacity to digest a scam bigger than Lehman.

  18. Kumar ,

    INteresting thought . Im not a economics student , but love the subject . I always had doubts about the execution of such a costly programme. these concers appear valid after seeing the “Austerity programmmes” launched by the “welfare states” of Europe . If well governed states likt those in EU have to try hard to stop the leaks in the social expenditure , i wonder how hard is it for INdia.

    Assuming you know economics well what other strategy you suggest top alleviate rural poverty ?

  19. Comment by Shishir above is logical and relevant. Internet gives power to everyone in order to express their mind. However, in practical sense Prof Dreze is on the ground with unmatched credentials and until you are able to prove your credential against him this blog would just be one amongst the zillion pages.

  20. HI guys. I work as a Panchayat development Officer & am responsible for implementing EGA scheme. Let me make myself clear here. I have experienced both kinds of aforesaid nrega. I am very well aware of guideline and ground realities. Lets not besmirch a Good man’s name by casting doubts about its success or feasibility. A critics job is a responsible one. Mr.Jean dreze idea of NREGA is a true gem but only badly executed. The real culprits here are unwilling and corrupt officials who join hands with local village level politicians trying to amass wealth for their party and themselves. Just implementing Everything by the book is more than enough in putting a full stop to failures, corruption which of course is not happening. Truth to be told, (but am not proposing) I think Off record spending during elections would come down by 70% if we scrap Nrega scheme. Thats the ground reality…

  21. Jean dreze is a chor, in partnership with congress he is looting money

    And all those ill informed commentators attacking ravikiran for revealing the truth, shame on you people

    You people are dumb and stupid like animals so cant accept the truth revealed by ravikiran about the scam that is NREGA

  22. Hi ,
    Ravi kiran is sopot on. Iam a banker and have been involved in NREGA. It is a collosal fraud , a dole that is ruining the economy. If peoples lives were so transformed then why are people taking up arms everywhere. I had attended many meetings with Dreze. He used to lose his cool if the A/c went off for a moment. A clumsy tea boy cum rag picker was reduced to tears because he dared to disturb Dreze,s flow. I saw no concern for anyone but himself in him. For the record I have worked in rural branches , Dree never visits rural areas. The rigorous data that he uses are not collected through field work but sent by bankers like me. He only converts them into statistical tools and tables.

  23. ” Dree never visits rural areas”.
    That statement itself drains your rant of any credibility it could have. If only you had placed it right at the beginning of your response, Mr. r giridharan, i wouldn’t have bothered to read the whole of it. For i was quite surprised by your A/c anecdote. Any of us who has worked with Dreze can give you countless examples that would go against your ‘no concern for anyone but himself’ image of Dreze.

    ” The rigorous data that he uses are not collected through field work but sent by bankers like me.” i would really like to know how many would believe this. i know i wouldn’t . Why? Because i have seen him do exactly that (collecting data through field work) while working with him.

    ” For the record I have worked in rural branches , Dree never visits rural areas.” there are places in India so rural, there aren’t any bank branches close by. Dreze has been there. Tell this to the people there who know him by his name.

    PS: it is possible to criticize Congress and Sonia without tarnishing the name of a humble, honest and hardworking economist.

  24. dont belittle and embarass your little intellect by ranting out hate words for this belgium born , former NAC economist who actually lived in an Indian villages to experience the hardships faced by our 70% of rural population( now who does that, and that too for a country other then his).
    Its like a prep student complaining about the headmaster to the community by writing out some mindless bits of words , which i am sure would make a difference to no one or to change the opinion of anyone except to the a ignornant like you, who i think has absoutely lost it and trying to find some solace in the invisible world of blogs.
    You, my friend has been able to join a very special group,the members of whom are having a peculiar reputation, which is solely measured by the amount to which a person can stoop to malign others and of course in competition to out do his fellow members in the mean time.

    If this all seems crap, can you forget your own shit that you have splattered around.

  25. It is unfortunate to call a person shameless for his poor understanding of Indian bureaucracy (CAG).
    But it is appalling that the Caller himself does’nt look deeper into the Bureaucracy.
    My Dad was a senior official with the CAG and the tales he told me are amazing:
    Flash floods washing off Locomotives, Rail Tracks, Granites etc (which were never procured at the first place)
    Air lifting of heavy defence equipments, parts etc on the pretext of emergency ?? when they were not envisaged to be put into operation before 8-10 months. & many more..

    Who is shameless now ?

  26. The cacophony created by scatterbrained loudmouths like Ravikiran Rao and the unfettered access that freedom of speech that India provides is in large part responsible for holding the country back. First of all, it’s one thing to question one’s position on an issue and debate it and another to cast aspersions on the character of the person who has taken the position. Mr. Rao, you picked the wrong tree to bark up when you unwittingly chose to pick on Jean Dreze. Why don’t you pick a developing country of your choice say in Africa and do an iota of what Jean Dreze has accomplished in India. Everyone has an opinion and is entitled to one – just keep it to yourself as it may be totally worthless as in this case.

  27. Jean dreze is a chor, in partnership with congress he is looting money

    And all those ill informed commentators attacking ravikiran for revealing the truth, shame on you people

    You people are dumb and stupid like animals so cant accept the truth revealed by ravikiran about the scam that is NREGA

  28. Gali main shor hai Jean Drèze chor hai

    Saala harami ki aulad sonia ki gand chaat hai

    Sonia is the biggest randhi of the world, she went to america to get an secret abortion done after manmohan gangbanged her alongwith with his chor cabinet ministers

    All those supporting Jean Drèze are 2 baap ki aulad lol, Shameless theives, looting public money in the name of poor, Curses on you chor, randi ki auladeen

  29. Wasted my precious time reading an article written by an illiterate who is only interested in criticizing the work done by Jean Dreze.
    To the writer- Dont just write articles without witnessing the ground reality. Rakhi Sawant would’ve written a better report sitting at her home.

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