The Centre on Tuesday unveiled the expanded version of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, allowing over 30 new permissible works, as productivity-enhancing activity. The gram panchayats alone have been empowered to decide on the priority of work to be taken up.

Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh, who tabled in Parliament a copy of the new notification, and Planning Commission member Mihir Shah told reporters that the purpose was to give supremacy to meet the exigencies of the States, and the livelihood needs of the people in the rural areas.

Interestingly enough, the list of works negates the emphasis on embankments as a method to combat floods, and advocates the need to rely on traditional methods which allow the water to flow into a depression, and provide for drainage of water from the fields.

Mr. Shah emphasised that the 12 Plan will provide a major shift in this regard.

The gram panchayats alone will have the power to take up any work in their jurisdiction, on the basis of the decision arrived at in the gram sabhas. It will be up to the gram panchayats to decide which work will be taken up, irrespective of the priority that the MGNREGA schedule might list.

Moreover, the 60:40 ratio of spending on labour and material has been made mandatory at the gram panchayat level, giving room for taking up programmes which are less labour-intensive also. The notification, thus, has shot down the demand by the States for relaxation in the norm. The new list of permissible works, categorised under 10 heads, primarily aims at benefiting agriculture, and giving a fillip to sanitation through convergence with the total sanitation campaign (TSC), which, too, will be restructured for the purpose.

The new list emphasises works relating to watershed in the plains and mountains, agriculture — including liquid bio-manures and pesticides made from cow's urine — livestock, fisheries, floods, irrigation, drinking water and sanitation, and works prevalent in coastal areas.

States seeking new job works included Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Sikkim, each of which had their own kind of geographical problems — from plains, coastal areas, mountains and floods.

Thrust to sanitation

Giving a thrust to sanitation, MGNREGA's contribution in the construction of a toilet under the proposed restructured scheme will be Rs. 4,500 for each unit, which will now be permitted to be constructed at an estimated cost of Rs. 9,900. The remaining cost will be met from the budgetary support provided under the sanitation campaign.

At present, the permissible cost for construction of a toilet is just Rs. 4,200, of which only Rs. 1,200 comes from the MGNREGA funds. But officials admitted that this convergence would present some problems at the execution level.

While linking remuneration with the Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labour, the schedule of rates will be linked to the quantum of work output.

Expanded version of Act unveiled

30 new works included

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