A chief ministers’ panel has recommended that in order to curb pollution caused by crop burning, the high labour cost of converting biomass into compost could be funded through MGNREGA labour.
The sub-group of chief ministers headed by former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was formed to look at ways to converge the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) with agricultural policy. The recommendations of the sub-group have been submitted to the NITI Aayog, which will decide on their implementation.
Under MGNREGA, every rural household is eligible to get 100 days of unskilled wage work. On the issue of crop burning, the report states: “Crop stubble and residue burning is spreading in the country causing serious environmental hazards. Such biomass can be used for making compost but labour cost is very high for individual farms. NREGA labour may be used to convert biomass into compost resulting in waste to wealth at panchayat or village level.”
The sub-group was constituted in June 2018 after a meeting of the NITI Aayog governing council chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “align works under MGNREGA fully to the requirements of achieving the goal of higher farmers’ income”.
The sub-group was asked to look at specifically “pre-sowing and post-harvest interventions”. Besides Chouhan, the chief ministers of Bihar (Nitish Kumar), Gujarat (Vijay Rupani), Andhra Pradesh (N Chandrababu Naidu), West Bengal (Mamata Banerjee), Uttar Pradesh (Yogi Adityanath), and Sikkim (Pawan Chamling) were its members.
Officials said the Agriculture Ministry has from this year called in significant resources to manage crop residue in Punjab and Haryana, and to convert paddy straw into manure. “Farmers are provided 50 per cent subsidy through the scheme that began in January, while small and marginal farmers are given as much as 80 per cent subsidy for the machinery cost. This will be tried out in other places such as UP and Rajasthan too, very soon,” an official said.
The official added that if this work is included under the NREGA’s list of permissible works, the labour cost could be covered by the scheme. “In a two-year-old experiment by Tamil Nadu on solid waste management, the capital expenditure for NADEP/vermi-composting pits are funded under MGNREGA. The same could also be done for creating sheds for agricultural waste segregation and pits for turning them into manure,” the official said.
Of the 260 permissible works under MGNREGA currently, 164 are related to agricultural and allied works such as building cattle/poultry sheds, and creating irrigation channels, farm ponds, check dams, stone-bunding.
The sub-group also recommended that in addition to unskilled labour, semi-skilled labour too should be included in the Centre’s MGNREGA labour budget. MGNREGA needed to “reorient from capital asset to human asset” creation, it said. However, Rural Development Ministry officials have clarified that under the Act, MGNREGA funds are meant for creation of tangible assets, and cannot be used to subside farm labour.