Months ahead of the Lok Sabha elections the UPA Government has announced a series of measures to ensure that National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA) would woo voters this time as it did in the previous elections.
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh today announced a series of steps that is expected to not only expand the work done under NREGA but result in a lot of tangible financial benefits to job card holders of NREGA.
The scheme would now include works that would lead to creation of concrete and durable assets and these include houses for BPL families built under Indira Awas Yojana or State housing schemes, offices for Self Help Group federations, brick kilns in villages, besides storage facilities in villages for grains and food crops like potatoes and onions.
The scheme would also allow every job card holder to claim Rs 10,000 to build a toilet in his house, irrespective of whether he is below or above poverty line, Ramesh said listing out the changes made in the schedules of the Act.
The Rural Development Minister also for the first admitted that no worker under the scheme has ever been paid unemployment allowance in the seven years since the Act came into being.
The ministry would now publish on its website the number of workers who deserve to be paid this allowance each month in each state and would leave it to the state to pay the amount.
Asked how these workers would be identified, ministry officials said that the difference between the number of workers attending Rojgar diwas in every ward would be compared with the number of people who turn up for work. The remaining would be considered eligible for unemployment allowance.
In another measure meant to address delay in wage payment, the ministry has decided that workers who dont get paid even 15 days after their work is done would be compensated with a third of their wages. This would be deducted from the salary of the person responsible for the delay.
According to the ministry, the MIS would reveal the stage where the delay has occurred and the person responsible at that stage would have to compensate for the delay.
Delays at the level of banks and post offices would lead to deduction from the money meant for these institutions, ministry officials said.
According to former Employment Guarantee Council member Ashwini Kumar, connectivity is not uniformly available in all states and hence identifying delays through MIS cannot work everywhere.
Inclusion of construction of concrete structures under NREGA had been opposed by various civil society groups in the past as they felt that it would lead to more money being spent on material rather than on wages.
The diversion of work to contractors was another factor that had been pointed out. Jairam Ramesh today dismissed these fears and said that "the scheme cannot be just cash transfer. It has to lead to durable assets for the community.''