Reopening the debate over the UPA’s flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has asked the Centre why it cannot be delivered as a scheme.
“It is a moot issue why rural employment should be guaranteed by an Act, and why such employment cannot be delivered, or even guaranteed, as a scheme,” Raje has said in a letter sent to Union Minister for Rural Development Nitin Gadkari on June 6, accessed by The Indian Express. Raje is set to meet Gadkari on Friday.
“It is difficult to see the advantages of an Act, except that it can lead to increased litigation by all manner of organisations. Whether it is to be NREGA or NREGS is a matter of debate and decision,” Raje has said.
The BJP supported the Act in Parliament when it was put to vote in 2005 and enacted as law. It was hailed by activists as it guaranteed minimum employment for a fixed number of days as a right, not just as a scheme or largesse like in several food-for-work schemes prevalent in states like Maharashtra since the 1970s.
In her letter to Gadkari, Raje said that some issues in the Act need a rethink. She said the focus of the scheme “should be the creation of durable assets and sustainable livelihoods.”
“Employment generated through departmental works should be counted as employment for NREGA purposes, on the basis that only the poorest and needy would seek hard manual work…Expenditure on skill upgradation should be included in the NREGA. This will enable creation of sustainable livelihoods,” she said adding that NREGA can then be linked to the National Rural Livelihoods Mission.
“The ratio of labour and material as 60:40 should be reckoned at the district level” to make it “flexible to undertake different kinds of works”, she said. The letter adds that the “State Employment Guarantee Council may be given complete flexibility to include any kind of work as per local needs”.
When contacted, activist Aruna Roy of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), among the foremost campaigners for MGNREGA in the UPA’s National Advisory Council, said: “To make MGNREGA — an Act passed unanimously by Parliament — a ‘moot issue’ and suggest a scheme in place of an Act takes us back to the dark days of corrupt political and bureaucratic controls that promoted impunity, inefficiency, patronage and exploitation. To condemn the Act because it can lead to ‘increased litigation’ is in fact a blatant admission of unwillingness and inability to implement what is law.”
Nikhil De of the MKSS said, “This letter is also a betrayal of promises made by BJP leaders, including Raje, during the Lok Sabha campaign that they would not dilute MGNREGA or any other social sector legislation. Any party that wins on the promise of jobs and tries to take away the people’s right to get work will face a massive reaction.”
Raje’s office denied any bid to question the Act and said she plans to seek more funds for MGNREGA and ask for pending dues to be cleared. Sources in the CMO said there is a proposal to make the scheme “more enabling and inclusive and to add dimensions that were so far neglected”.
(With inputs from Sweta Dutta in Jaipur)