The UPA government on Friday renamed its flagship rural job guarantee programme — the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) — after Mahatma Gandhi on the occasion of his 140th birth anniversary.
“The Union Cabinet has decided to rechristen NREGA as the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a gathering of heads of villages to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the launching of Panchayati Raj.
Dr. Singh said the scheme had been aptly named after the Father of the Nation as he always held the concept of Gram Swaraj in high esteem.
“Several States have still not provided adequate funds, functions and functionaries to Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). This system needs to be changed.”
UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi expressed the hope that Parliament would approve the Bill providing for 50 per cent reservation to women in panchayats. The Cabinet has already approved a proposal to this effect.
Emphasising the importance of PRIs in the socio-economic system, Ms. Gandhi said weaker sections should effectively raise their voice and they should be heard. “There should not be any stumbling block in this,” she added.
It was the responsibility of the State governments to take steps towards strengthening panchayats, she said, adding that the Centre had taken several measures to empower weaker sections. “We have achieved a lot, and still a lot has to be done,” she told the convention.
The Prime Minister said it was important to decentralise governance in a vast nation like India, and this could be done by Panchayati Raj institutions.
By giving adequate training to representatives of PRIs, they could play a more responsible role as significant units of a decentralised administration.
“Panchayati Raj Institutions need to play a pivotal role in the nation’s development. Peoples’ participation is a must to implement the government’s programmes and schemes in a transparent and effective manner and this can be ensured only by the Panchayati Raj institutions,” he said.
Emphasising the need to reform the system as even today in many States, the functions, the funds and functionaries had not been delegated effectively to the PRIs, he said the Centre must strive to make them effective instruments.
Dr. Singh said that the “gram sabha” was a forum which provided direct participation of the people in a democracy.