Civil society activists Wednesday claimed that the NDA government at the Centre was trying to roll back the national rural job guarantee scheme, and warned of a large-scale agitation on the issue in December.
"This government came to power saying that they will continue with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. But they are trying to undermine it at a very basic level," Nikhil Dey of the People's Action for Employment Guarantee told the media here.
He said that the budget for the programme which was always allocation-based has been made into demand-based now.
Noted civil society activist and former member of the National Advisory Council Aruna Roy said: "The government is in denial. None of the people I have spoken to in the rural areas want MGNREGS curtailed in any way".
Asserting that if the scheme is rolled back, more than half of the country would be affected, Aruna Roy said: "Not only unemployment, but MGNREGS has also addressed issues of underemployment."
Forty percent of the households which have benefited from the scheme belong to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, she said.
The activists said among the ways in which the government was trying to roll back the law was by converting it into a contractor-driven programme and by rationing funds.
According to Dey, this information has been accessed through the Right to Information (RTI) query.
Economist Prabhat Patnaik said that the MGNREGS was the most significant programme of independent India.
"To undermine it is to attack peoples' rights," he added.
He said that the employment guarantee programme ensured a certain amount of purchasing power among the rural poor. "We should take this extremely seriously."
Former Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen said: "The opposition to MGNREGS has come from farmers who believe that it has shoved up wages."
According to Aruna Roy, people in rural areas were very unhappy with the changes being proposed in the law and would converge in the capital in December to raise their voice against it.