HindustanTimes Wed,22 Oct 2014

UPA out, rural ministry plans to scale down NREGA

Brajesh Kumar, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, May 24, 2014
First Published: 00:27 IST(24/5/2014) | Last Updated: 00:33 IST(24/5/2014)

What was inconceivable only few days ago in the corridors of the rural development ministry is now openly being pitched for — how to scale down UPA government’s brainchild NREGA.

Ministry officials are busy drawing up a blueprint for the new government to tweak NREGA in a bid to increase the efficiency of the 2006 rural job guarantee scheme.

Some of the proposed changes include a focus on select blocks instead of all districts, emphasis on creation of durable assets and tweaking the 60:40 ratio of wage and material.

“The UPA II should have never gone ahead with phase two expansion of the scheme,” an official told HT on condition of anonymity. The scheme, when started in 2006, covered the 200 most backward districts, but then was later universalised to cover all districts in 2008.

“Within first few years we realized there was no merit in universalising the scheme. While there could be demand for work in remote villages with no other scope for work other than agriculture, in a village adjacent to an industrial belt, people had other options,” a senior official said.

The ministry officials believe that the more rational approach would be to focus on select blocks that are in need of job security.

The other issue with the scheme, and which needs serious consideration according to officials, is its inability to create durable assets.

Even though it is primarily an employment guarantee scheme, the government spends Rs. 30,000- Rs. 40,000 crore annually, and therefore there has to be creation of durable assets, officials argued.

One of the reasons why the gram panchayats prefer ‘kutcha’ work and avoid concrete ones is the compulsion of maintaining of 60:40 ratio (wage:material) while taking up work. “Out of every Rs. 100 spent, we can earmark only Rs. 40 for material.

With such a ratio you can’t carry out concrete work,” an official explained.

The ministry in its presentation has advised tweaking the ratio to enable creation of durable assets.

The scheme that came into existence in 2006 by an Act of Parliament with a guarantee of up to 100 days of employment per household per year has often come in for criticism for leakages, delayed wage payment and lack of demand.

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