Two ministries concerned with rural development are at loggerheads over running of the government's flagship scheme- the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
The agriculture ministry is protesting the way the Rs 40, 000 crore programme is being executed, saying it has increased the burden on agriculture, which is showing just about two percent growth now.
"State-level studies by the Agro Economic Research Centres on wage rate, food security and migration reveal that MGNREGA has put an upward pressure on general wage level in rural areas and that there is shortage of labour for critical labour intensive operations like sowing and harvesting," Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told Parliament a few days back.
Based on the studies in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana and Punjab and also demands from farmers, the ministry recently wrote to the rural development ministry executing the scheme to suspend the NREGA works during such seasons. The rural development ministry, however, turned down the proposal.
According to agriculture ministry, the average rural agricultural wage rate increased by 19.8% in 2010 over 2009. Farmer associations complain they are forced to pay as high as R400 per day during peak seasons after NREGA came into effect.
"My concern is running the programme successfully according the purpose it originated for," Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh had earlier said.
Even states, panchayats and farmers associations want the rural development ministry to allow agriculture works under NREGA - something the officials are strongly opposed to. The demand has put additional pressure on the ministry.
"Under NREGA, you are asking a farmer to build a road or some building. Instead the government can allow cultivation activities under NREGA so that it would provide wages and also ease the labour costs," Kishore Tiwari, president, Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti said.
"The act is not meant for farm output. If the input costs are increasing the farm ministry could compensate the farmer by giving more MSP for the produce," a senior official said.