The Centre has suspended a decision to allow rice cultivation under NREGA, fearing that it would lead to demands for including other crops under the act.
In a bid to rebuild the appeal of the UPA's flagship programme, minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh had announced a new version of the right-to-work scheme in February.
One of the modifications was to allow small, marginal and SC/ST farmers to employ NREGA workers on their farms for transplantation, weeding, etc. For that, farmers would have to grow the SRI (System of Rice Intensification) variety of rice, which provides high yields with low water consumption.
However, last week's government notification does not mention cultivation works, even though it lists 30 new ones allowed under the Act - such as vermi-composting, farm bunding, and construction of toilets and shelters for cattle and poultry. "Agriculture is a recurring expenditure, whereas NREGA is for capital expenditure. Besides, (if one variety is allowed) we may face demands to allow sugarcane, wheat, etc, tomorrow. It would open a Pandora's box," Ramesh said on
Tuesday, while announcing the notification.
"Though not rejected, the decision is kept in abeyance for the time being," Ramesh said. Ministry officials are opposed to the inclusion of farm works, stating that it goes against the purpose of NREGA - which involves providing subsistence in its absence.
Permitting rice cultivation was proposed by a committee to revise MG-NREGA guidelines, headed by planning commission member Mihir Shah, in the wake of demands from the states and farmer groups.
Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar had written to the Prime Minister, seeking suspension of NREGA in the farming season, in addition to letting NREGA labour in agriculture.
Significantly, while addressing farmers a few days ago, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Kiran Reddy had said he would request the Centre to allow more crops and varieties under NREGA, besides SRI.