In Kerala NREGA was almost 90% manned by women and many of these were employed to sweep the yards of private households. So, in effect tax payers money used to fund free maid servants/sweepers for the citizens of Kerala. Jai ho NAC, jai ho Sonia mata ! Kerala has around 25 lakh migrant workers from Bengal and Orissa (with illegal Bangladeshis thrown in for good measure!) who send back Rs 17,500 crores home as Kerala men have given up manual labour. CAG backs what comedy shows in Kerala say about NREGA â€œI do not accept that you dig a ditch, take out soil and call it employment. Put the soil back into the ditch. That is also employmentâ€¦ We need skilled employment,â€ said an indignant Congress union minister Jairam Ramesh in June last. â€œNREGA guarantees only wages, not skilled employment,â€ he said. â€œHow much work will you do? How many ditches will you dig? How many ponds will you rebuild? How much forestation will you do? There has to be a limit.â€ Nearly a year later, the CAG has said the same thing â€“ this time with facts and figures. Of the Rs 25,000 crore irregularities (Rs 10,000 crore plus the others) that it has reportedly highlighted, about Rs 6,500 crore went into employment that didnâ€™t create any regular assets. Exactly what Jairam Ramesh alluded to â€” the Keynesian prescription of digging ditches and putting the soil back. As reported by Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi, of the Rs 6,500 crore thus wasted, one third was in Keralaâ€™s NREGA â€“ the model that state-sponsored academicians and development specialists all over the world celebrated as the perfect social protection example for empowerment of women. The scheme in Kerala was a jewel in the crown for the UPA, and both the LDF and the UDF governments. The CAG has now denuded them. However, while hailing this historic empowerment of women, what was glossed over was that there were hardly any men available for these public works because the salaries were at least one fourth of the daily wage rate in the state. The best practice case studies also ignored the fact that these days men in Kerala hardly do any daily wage labour and most of it is done by migrants from eastern India. By the state governmentâ€™s own admission, Kerala has about 25 lakh migrant labourers and they remit about Rs 17,500 crore every year out of the state. They earn about Rs 350 to 500 a day for the types of labour that have been rejected by local men. NREGA in Kerala has certainly employed a large number of women and pushed a lot of cash into their hands. Annually, each beneficiary took Rs 12,500 home and most of them have never been employed in manual labour before. To be fair, letâ€™s look at the positive highlights, as noted by an UNDP-funded assessment by the Ministry of Rural Development. A study by Ratna M Sudarshan for the Centre for Social Protection of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS Sussex) highlighted another interesting angle â€“ the contrast between the women workforce participation in NREGA at 85 percent and their average workforce participation in the state at 35 percent. In other words, NREGA brought a large number of women (almost three times more) who wouldnâ€™t have otherwise worked, out of their homes and employed them. And women were hugely receptive to the idea. In at least two districts (Thiruvananthapuram and Alappuzha), I have seen women from not-so-poor families joining the NREGA (thozhilurappu padhathi as it is called in the state) because the labour involved was easy and mostly purposeless. The groups of women I saw cleaned the yards of private households. When it was impossible to get labourers for such work â€“ not even Odiya and Bengali migrants â€“ all that the households had to do was to provide black-tea and some nick-knacks. Government paying for cleaning up private yards or property pales even the most Utopian welfare state into insignificance.