Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh has taken his wrangle with finance minister P Chidambaram and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar over the Centre's job guarantee programme to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's court.
Stung by their repeated assertions that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) schemes were having a negative impact on the availability of farm labour, Ramesh shot a note to the PM to "respond to the concerns raised by both senior ministers".
In another note to the PM, he tried to allay Chidambaram's concerns that MGNREGA was facing a decline in employment.
Narrating how the job scheme's focus on irrigation and water conservation has had a positive impact on agricultural production, he argued that "there was no definite data to suggest this shortfall" and "MGNREGA wage rates provide the Centre with an opportunity to uniformly enforce minimum wages and set a reservation wage to prevent the exploitation of poor workers".
Ramesh also brought up National Sample Survey Organisation data to show that the agriculture labour force has been
seeing a negative trend since 2004-05-much before NREGA was rolled out.
Ramesh said that as the average workday under NREGA never exceeded 54 days, "it is hardly likely that such a small proportion of person-days per household would be substituting agriculture employment for the entire year".
Ramesh and Pawar had earlier locked horns over GM crops. As their tussle enters a new turf, the rural minister has also told the PM how a panel is working for greater synergy between agriculture and MGNREGA.