NREGS expansion

By Savvy Soumya Misra
Published: Tuesday 15 September 2009

To include private land of small farmers, freezing wages

the rural development ministry recently issued a notification expanding the scope of National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (nregs) to allow asset creation on private land of small and marginal farmers. The work, the notification said, will include "irrigation facility, horticulture plantation and land development facilities". As of now, there is provision to include work on landholdings of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes only. Activists said the ministry's move is anti-poor.

"Powerful farmers will now divide their land into small holdings and benefit from the scheme," said Nikhil Dey of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (mkss), a non-profit in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan. "In the garb of horticulture plantation, they will get work like weeding, sowing and harvesting done.They will ensure all assets are created on private land and not for the community," Dey added. The notification brings in almost 85 per cent of landholdings under nregs. Aruna Roy, a founder members of mkss, said it was baffling how such a notification could be passed without consulting the National Advisory Council or seeking the opinion of village councils. The council is an advisory body set up to monitor the implementation of the UPA government's manifesto.

Jean Dreze, visiting professor at the Delhi School of Economics and an advisory council member, demanded withdrawal of the notification.

Rural Development Minister C P Joshi said under the prevailing drought conditions this is an ecologically-sustainable project and will help recharge the groundwater. The government also plans to freeze wages at Rs 100 for nregs though the Congress in its election manifesto had promised a real wage of Rs 100 linked to consumer price index and inflation.

"Freezing wage rate violates the Minimum Wages Act and employing people for less pay would amount to forced labour," Dey said. (Payment under nregs is the Centre's responsibility. Under the Minimum Wages Act, the state fixes the minimum wage.) He said there is legal confusion regarding the wage freeze under nregs. That should be resolved first.

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