The government has amended its guidelines under the national rural employment guarantee scheme (NREGS), the world’s largest job security scheme.
The guidelines, issued in July, allowed asset creation on private land owned by small and marginal farmers. In the UPA’s first innings, it was allowed only on government land.
* Nregs guarantees a
maximum of 100 days of work in a year.
* The Planning Commission had blamed poor administration of the scheme at the panchayat level for states’ inability to provide 100 days of work.
* On an average, the state governments have provided 40-50 days of work.
* The Centre had provided close to Rs 70,000 crore till March 31, 2009 for NREGS implementation.
* In the 2009-10 budget, Rs 39,100 crore has been
earmarked for the scheme.
On September 1, the Rural Development Ministry said projects built on land owned by Dalit and tribal groups will be accorded first priority for asset creation.
The guidelines on July 22 had allowed NREGS projects on land owned by small (up to one hectare) and marginal farmers (up to two hectares), without specifying the target groups.
The guidelines, which allowed asset creation — ponds, wells and check dams — in private land owned by small and marginal farmers, were criticised by civil rights groups, which contended that Dalits and tribals, the primary targets of the scheme, would get a raw deal.
“Close to 80 per cent farmers in India are marginal and small. The guidelines would have meant that the rich and powerful among these took away all benefits,” said rights activist Nikhil De.
There are close to 160 million Dalits in India. The tribal population in the country is estimated at about 240 million people.
Since February 2006, Rs 70,000 crore (Rs 700 billion) has been spent on the NREGS to benefit 43.2 million people. The popularity of the scheme was one of the factors that helped the UPA romp back to power in May 2009.
The government reasoned that asset creation would help improve the output of small farmers, who have turned into agricultural labourers owing to falling earnings from their land.
“Once work on the land of Dalits and tribal owners is complete, NREGS funds can be utilised for creation of assets on land of small farmers,” said Mihir Shah, member in-charge of rural development in the Planning Commission.
The ministry got some support from Madhusudan Mistry, former chief whip of Congress in 14th Lok Sabha, who said the July guidelines would have ensured people got the minimum 100 days of employment.
But finally, the civil rights groups, led by Aruna Roy, have succeeded in persuading the government.