The UPA government has decided to allow cash payment of wages to workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in a desperate bid to increase demand for jobs that had gone down due to delayed payment of remuneration.

Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh on Monday made the announcement stating that the facility would be allowed in all the 60 left wing extremist (LWE) affected districts where the Integrated Action Plan (IAP) has been undertaken. The process will be videographed to prevent irregularities.

Underscoring his opposition to the practice, Mr. Ramesh said he was left with backing the unfortunate option as banks had closed down their branches in these areas and the Ministry had to confront the declining labour budget in the past two years. It was only natural that the banking correspondence arrangement too collapsed.

Although the Act demanded that the wages be paid within a stipulated period, delayed payment of wages by 4 to 7 months was not unusual, Mr. Ramesh admitted at a workshop on MGNREGA.

On a short term basis, there was no alternative, he explained pointing out that with the allowance of cash payment, 4, 000 MGNREGA workers had been paid Rs.40 lakh during the past two months in Bijapur district in Chhattisgarh.

The SBI has promised to launch mobile vans in Bastar district and Mr. Ramesh intends to keep his fingers crossed for the facility to be put in place.

Mr. Ramesh said he intended to write to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to discontinue cash payment of wages due to poor bank network and limited administrative capacity to deliver at all levels.

To ensure the creation of a durable asset, Mr. Ramesh advocated discouraging construction of roads under MGNREGA as these did not last for even two seasons, emphasising on land development and water management to increase productivity of land and better living standards for small and marginal farmers.

He promised to come up with a scheme for those who had availed themselves of 100 days of work, accounting for 8 per cent of job card holders.

Brand ambassador

The Rs.5-crore jackpot winner at the Kaun Banega Crorepati TV show, Sushil Kumar from Bihar, was appointed as the brand ambassador for MGNREGA for Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. Mr. Kumar said the success of MGNREGA would go a long way in curbing naxalism.

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