The UPA government has widened the scope of its flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) to include works related to agriculture, animal husbandry, poultry, drinking water and sanitation.
In its initial avatar launched over six years ago, the NREGA was limited only to works concerning water and soil conservation, afforestation and land development. It was largely seen as a subsistence dole for the rural people in the lean farm season. Now, however, it will create productive assets and generate incomes for the poor.
The move comes with general elections just two years away and a notion building in political circles that the scheme, which helped the UPA return to power in 2009, is losing its appeal due to delays in works, irregular payments and corruption.
The NREGA’s new version was unveiled on Wednesday by rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, who said that the modifications in the guidelines will be effective from April.Under the new version, small, marginal and SC-ST farmers will be able to employ NREGA workers on their farms for transplantation, weeding, etc. Farmers will have to grow the SRI (System of Rice Intensification) variety of rice that gives high yields with low consumption of water.
The additional works — based on the recommendations of a committee chaired by Planning Commission member Mihir Shah — include the construction of cattle sheds, poultry shelters, fish drying yards, etc.
"Inclusion of these works will be a major relief to millions of farmers now working under NREGA and will do justice to thousands of crores left unutilised under the scheme every year," Shah told HT.
The new version comes in the wake of claims by farmer lobbies and the agriculture ministry that NREGA has affected agriculture in the country. "Urgent measures are needed to turn NREGA into a productivity-enhancing instrument and allay the falsely perceived conflict between the scheme and agriculture," Ramesh said.