To counter charges that NREGS is taking away workers from farms, the rural ministry has suggested villagers be put on the drivers’ seat: They should be allowed to decide when and how much of NREGS they need.
The model is already being followed in Andhra’s Nalgonda and Krishna districts.
The proposal came following the objections of the agriculture ministry on the drain of farm hands, which leads to labour shortage and wage hike.
Last month, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar wrote to PM Manmohan Singh seeking suspension of NREGS during sowing, transplantation and harvest seasons. He reportedly even demanded the government subsidise the cost of farm labour from the NREGS account.
Rejecting his request, the rural ministry — running the Rs40,000-crore scheme — came up with the proposal that puts the decision-making power in the hands of the villagers.
“Let the villagers...decide the need for NREGS vis-à-vis farming (rains, type of crops) in their area. Seeking a nationwide solution from New Delhi is not a way out,” BK Sinha, secretary, rural development, told HT.
A committee is also being formed with officials of Indian Council of Agricultural Research and those working on NREGS, to evolve other models that would allow NREGS and farming to co-exist.
The ministry, though, has rejected any change in the programme to accommodate agriculture. “The argument that NREGS puts pressure on farming is coming from big farmers who are forced to pay more to labourers,” said an official from the rural development ministry. “The act does not allow for the suspension of the scheme to facilitate agriculture. The scheme is also not meant to subsidise farm input costs, which is the job of the agriculture ministry.”