The Union Cabinet decision will come into effect from April this year

In a bid to woo tribals ahead of Lok Sabha polls, the government on Friday raised the workdays under its flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) from 100 to 150 for tribals, a move that will benefit 14 lakh families. The Union Cabinet decision will come into effect from April this year.

Those tribals who have received land rights under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, will be eligible for additional 50 days of wage employment under the rural job scheme. The beneficiaries would be those who have completed 100 workdays in that particular financial year. They will be given a job card of a different colour to distinguish them from other MGNREGA workers.

Around 14 lakh individual and community titles have been distributed under FRA 2006. Of these around 8 lakh individual titles have been given in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa. The government believes it as an important initiative since a lot of land levelling, plantation, and other activities are required to be undertaken on these lands to make them more productive.

The additional person days through MNREGA will allow the households to undertake additional work on their own land. This is one among the several initiatives taken by the Rural Development Ministry for the uplift of the tribals. Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said though the primary focus of this move is on the tribals, people from other communities, who are beneficiaries under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 would also be covered by the Cabinet decision.

“By the decision of the Cabinet, this guaranteed employment will increase from 100 days to 150 days in the tribal areas of the country and in the districts which are declared Maoist affected,” Mr.Ramesh told reporters in New Delhi. Of the total 14 lakh families, who are the beneficiaries under Forest Right Act, about 1.6 lakh have completed 100 workdays under MNREGA. They hail from Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Tripura, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Mr.Ramesh expressed confidence that the new initiative would help in a big way for countering the Left wing extremism. “Not only will tribal families benefit from 150 days of employment, but also help in increasing the green cover in forests,” he noted.

The MGNREGA programme, which was launched just before the last Lok Sabha polls in 2009, had benefitted Congress electorally. The scheme, in which half of the beneficiaries are women, roughly reaches every fifth household in the rural areas. The scheme is in operation in 632 districts in the country, according to official data. In 2012-13, it provided employment to more than 4.8 crore households generating more than 213 crore person days of employment at a total expenditure of more than 39,000 crore. The average wage rate per day has gone up to Rs. 128 crore in 2012-13 from Rs. 65 in 2006-07.

The objective of MGNREGA is aimed at enhancing livelihood security of rural households for creating durable assets and discouraging migration. The focus of the scheme is on water conservation, water harvesting, drought proofing, land development, flood control and rural connectivity among others. The scope of the scheme has also been extended from time to time.

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