The UPA government is leveraging Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to broaden the socio-economic development of the country.
In a significant move that would lead to better growth and health of newborns and infants, the ministry of rural development has decided to undertake the construction of anganwadis (pre-school nutrition centres) under the Act.
The right to work programme launched by UPA-1 in 2006 to provide livelihood security to the rural poor endowed the government with rich dividends contributing to the UPA-2 formation.
Now, the government is converging the Rs. 33, 000 crore (2012-13) scheme with other programmes to plug in the development deficit.
There are about 13 lakh functional anganwadi centres in rural areas, but only half of them operate from own buildings depriving the children of space and facility that should serve as a play school.
Under a convergence arrangement between NREGA and the Integrated Child Development Scheme now, the rural ministry proposes to construct 1.5 lakh anganwadi centres in five years.
"The anganwadi centres would also serve as meeting places for women's self-help groups (SHGs) established under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission. They would also function as crèches for children of women working under MGNREGA," rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said.
The effort would be in addition to the two lakh centres the ministry of women and child development would construct under ICDS with the cabinet having approved Rs. 6,851 crore.
Though the right to work scheme rescued the rural poor from distress migration in its initial years, the demand for work has been declining lately for reasons like good monsoons and better work opportunities.
The government has recently unveiled NREGA 2.0 widening the scope to include works related to animal husbandry, poultry, water and sanitation.
The fresh move now includes anganwadis under the permissible works. Government norms stipulate one anganwadi for every 800 of rural population.