A new government study on Tuesday said that the world’s biggest job guarantee programme - Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS)- has helped conserve natural resources and is an effective tool to fight climate change at the ground level.
The study by Indian School of Sciences, Bangalore, based on research in four drought prone states - Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan - shows the UPA government’s programme has resulted in improved ground water levels and improved availability of water for irrigation.
"It is possible to conclude that that MGNREGS works have contributed positively to the ground water level in the study villages, despite continued expansion and extraction of ground water," the report said.
It also added that works such as check dams, percolation tanks and de-silting of water bodies have contributed to an increase in areas irrigated by borewells and open wells, potentially leading to increased and sustained crop yields in most of the villages in the study area.
The survey conducted as part of the study also said the programme has increased drinking water supply in the villages because of increase in number of water bodies developed under the employment programme.
The study also found land development works under the programme has contributed in improving soil fertility in 72% of agriculture areas resulting in some improvement in production. Soil organic matter or carbon content is a very important indicator of soil fertility and land productivity, the report said.
The government’s use of manpower under the programme for afforestation, reforestation and horticulture had a positive impact in 31 of the 40 villages, where the study was done. Its exact impact was not known as trees have not reached their fruit bearing stage.
The study also said that MGNREGS works related to water and land development have been shown in this study to have contributed to generation of environmental benefits such as ground water recharge, increased water availability for irrigation, increased soil fertility, reduction in soil erosion and improved tree cover.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had said that agriculture would be worst affected by climate change in South Asia, especially India, and had asked countries to adopt policies for climate change mitigation.
The institute suggested that the programme should focus more on protection of natural resources, maintenance of assets created and empower the village bodies - gram sabha - to monitor the works undertaken under the programme. Once that is done, the study said, the programme could protect poor and marginalised from impacts of climate change.