Most of the new works approved relate to agriculture
Even while turning down demands for a moratorium on MGNREGS jobs during the agricultural season, the Centre on Wednesday approved new works that aim at boosting the farm sector.
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh released here a report, authored by Planning Commission member Mihir Shah, suggesting revision of the guidelines to strengthen the job entitlement programme that has run into rough weather of late.
The new avatar of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, coming into existence on April 1, will allow farmers who qualify for support under MGNREGS to hire hands for eight man-days per acre for transplantation and for another four man-days at two intervals for weeding.
Through this provision the Centre seeks to solve the problem of small and marginal farmers who not only find it difficult to get hands but also pay higher wages demanded by workers. They are unable to match the wages paid under MGNREGS. Now the government will pay for those working on agricultural land owned by eligible farmers.
Both Mr. Ramesh and the Planning Commission member said the Shah-led committee had received several petitions to freeze the scheme during the agricultural season but these were turned down and instead it was decided to accept the proposal to converge MGNREGS activities with farm work.
Out of the 30 new works approved, almost 90 per cent were agriculture related. Mr. Ramesh stressed that 75 per cent of employment was provided under MGNREGS outside the agricultural season and hence the anxiety in some quarters was unfounded.
However, among others, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh complaining that jobs under MGNREGS hit agricultural activities.
In another development, to safeguard the interests of manual labour, receipt of application has been made mandatory and inability to provide job would automatically generate an unemployment allowance under the electronic system to be managed by the States. Refusal by authorities to accept application for jobs has been made punishable.
The States will have to approve the annual plan, for works to be taken up, at the gram sabhas to be held on August 15, in a bid to prevent distress migration. The States have been permitted to make an interim 75 per cent wage payment if delay is unavoidable.
To eliminate misuse of funds, any panchayat or MGNREGS functionary found in possession of job cards will be hauled up.