The sixth anniversary of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) saw the government promising reforms in the scheme, which has been criticised for delays in wage payments and depleting farm labour.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the scheme could usher in a second green revolution through land development and irrigation facilities. He was, however, silent on demands to extend the scheme to mainstream agricultural activities.
“We desire that small farmers and poor families in particular benefit from this scheme. Hence, we have recently decided works related to irrigation, farming and land development can be done on land belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled tribes and people below the poverty line,” he said. referring to a decision taken two years ago. He said the building of playgrounds and toilets in anganwadis and schools was allowed under the NREGA, and attributed the poor demand for work under the Act in states like Rajasthan to a good harvest in those states. He was, however, silent on criticism by industry bodies and Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar that the scheme had raised wages and led to labour shortage.(Click here for SCHEME AT WORK)
Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said in a fortnight, he would unveil a reform plan, which would revise the list of works under the scheme to facilitate many farming-related activities. He added many states, especially those in Naxal-affected areas, had demanded changes in the ratio of wages and materials to 50:50 to facilitate the construction of granaries.
A committee, led by Planning Commission member Mihir Shah, had recommended limited and conditional use of the NREGA for farming. These recommendations would be released this month, Ramesh said.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi said reforms in public health could also be introduced through the scheme, which had the potential to develop natural resources. Both Singh and Sonia Gandhi expressed said it should be ensured that wages were paid to all workers under the scheme within 15 days.