Jean Dreze and Aruna Roy, members of the Central Employment Guarantee Council (CEGC) — governing body for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme — on Tuesday kept away from ‘MNREGS Sammelan 2010’ here, describing it as a “ceremonial function.”

In their joint letter to Rural Development Minister C.P. Joshi, the social activists, who had played a crucial role in shaping the job guaranteeing law, said: “We see little point in attending ceremonial functions as members of the CEGC.” The council’s substantive work was at a virtual standstill, the said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi focussed on four years of completion of the law that guaranteed 100 days of manual job to a BPL (Below Poverty Line) household in rural areas.

Prof. Dreze and Ms. Roy regretted that Dr. Joshi did not care to address the concerns they raised in their earlier letter in August about the council’s inertia and the issues that caused anxiety to them. “It is difficult to avoid the impression that the council is being deliberately kept in this dysfunctional state.”

Under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, it was the obligation of the government to facilitate the functioning of the council, the said. Failure to do so amounted to a violation of the law, besides depriving it of an “essential accountable safeguard.”

“Ill-considered” policy decisions had been taken, including freezing of wages in December 2008 against the advice of the council, the activists charged, and pointed out that the Ministry was yet to index wages to the price level despite a Congress manifesto promise.

Both of them protested against the Ministry’s decision to construct Bharat Nirman Rajiv Gandhi Sewa Kendra under the MNREGS, which, they feared was a “dangerous step towards displacement of labour-intensive works by material-intensive works.”

The activists saw this programme as a likely new entry point for exploitative and corrupt contractors and said its inclusion was “made in a non-transparent manner, without adequate consultation.”

They stressed that they were not against provisioning adequate infrastructure to gram panchayats, but such constructions were best undertaken under other schemes such as the Backward Regions Grant Fund with the labour component alone being dovetailed with the MNREGA.

Voices of resentment against the construction of the Kendra were heard at the meeting itself. Bihar Rural Development Department Minister Bhagwan Singh Kushwaha submitted a memorandum to Dr. Joshi, underscoring the “futility” of his efforts. Only in the eventuality of the Centre providing additional funds would it be possible to execute the scheme, Mr. Kushwaha said.

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