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A petition by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (pucl) on employment guarantee has raised a crucial issue -- its link to rural livelihood and rural assets. The Maharashtra experience, to which the petition referred, is an important entitlement to employment, providing thereby food security.
The Employment Guarantee Scheme (egs) of Maharashtra is the one of its kind in the world that guarantees employment on demand. This was for the first time an employment generation programme was conceived to create productive works at the village level.
The egs has in the past been linked to building of roads and other structures. Therefore now, when we need to take a 21 st century approach to this scheme, we need to look towards more productive assets like soil and water conservation structures. What government needs to look at is how the rural India can be provided food security and at the same time build rural assets. This would necessarily increase the rural livelihood and thus ensure food security and water security in this area.
The government needs to understand one thing, and understand it loud and clear. If soil and water conservation is not made an inherent part of, say drought relief, all the roads built will only bring more drought refugees to the cities. But water harvesting structures will lead to agriculture development in poor areas, creating jobs on a permanent basis.
Right now, government is speaking of increasing productivity only in Green Revolution areas or the existing agriculturally rich areas. But then what has been seen is that even if there is food surplus, there is no food security. The challenge, therefore, is to increase food security by increasing attention on land outside the Green Revolution area. It is vital to provide livelihood to the rural area so that the people have the money to buy food. This must, therefore, form the important kick-off point if the government is really serious about tackling the poverty issues. Not just raising slogans about it.