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Cong, activists at loggerheads over NREGA

Sreelatha Menon  |  New Delhi 

The Congress today said activists and NGOs did not have a monopoly over the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

Former Congress MP from Gujarat, Madhusudan Mistry, said activists had no business questioning the credibility of politicians like him on NREGA. He was referring to a note circulated by Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze at a meeting of the Central Employment Guarantee Council (CEGC) last month.

The note referred to a coordination committee set up by CEGC to oversee its sub-committees on NREGA. It was a critique on several aspects of implementing NREGA and said a committee that had only Congress representatives as members inspired no confidence.

Mistry retorted with a long tirade against the activists at the CEGP meeting here yesterday, accusing them of trying to benefit from the scheme and take credit for it while many others, including him, were the force behind the law.

His letter circulated yesterday says: “I got an impression that there are members in the council who consider the council as their fiefdom, and that other members should accept whatever they say. There are members who believe that they are the architect of the MGNRE Act and that the Act has come because of them. I want to make it clear to you that there were hundreds of groups and institutions in the country who were demanding the Employment Guarantee Act before these members had begun even working for the labourer.”

Mistry told Business Standard: “They cannot create this illusion of being creators of this law. I was chief whip of the party in the Lok Sabha when the NREGA was passed and I was part of the process of making the law. Now they are suddenly accusing me of being partisan just because I belong to Congress. When you chair a committee you leave the party behind and only focus on the job at hand.”

While Mistry said Roy had apologised for the note, Roy denied doing so. “I did not offer an unconditional apology and I stand by whatever was said in the note. I did say that I regretted hurting sentiments.”

Meanwhile, the incident has reinforced the worst fears of the NGOs in the CEGC — that they were losing ground in steering the NREGA. “This episode is nothing but an effort to make the narrowest interpretations of NREGA prevail and to muffle dissent,” said Roy.

The ministry had rejected demands made by the activists regarding wages and transparency. The sub-committees on the two subjects were headed by Dreze and Roy.

Joshi has also ruled out an increase in the minimum wages or linking it to prices, as demanded by the panel led by Dreze.

First Published: Thu, September 23 2010. 00:37 IST