National political parties on Wednesday called upon the UPA government to take immediate measures to get over the shortcomings that impeded the effective implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).

Cutting across political affiliation, representatives of national parties attending the first such meeting convened by the Rural Development Ministry, concurred with the government on the impact of the NREGA in rural areas, but they also underscored the absence of the programme’s accountability, vigilance and its dismal reach among the country’s poor.

Presiding over the meeting, Rural Development Minister C.P. Joshi agreed to set up a Vigilance and Monitoring Committee at the district level under the chairmanship of the local MP. He said the committee would be constituted and notified within a fortnight, responding to the suggestion to ensure accountability by the former Union Minister and RJD chief, Lalu Prasad.

Mr. Prasad also pointed to the use of machinery to carry out earthwork in Bihar in violation of the Act, and suggested that the Centre tackle water-logging so as to help farmers in cultivation.

BJP representative Rajendra Agarwal said the NREGA had not reached the poor to the desired extent, while CPI (M) leader Ram Chander Dome suggested spot payment of wages in villages that didn’t have bank branches. Samajwadi Party leader D.D. Tiwari called for greater participation of the people and NCP representative Ramrao Adik underlined the necessity to widen the scope of works under the scheme.

Pointing out that farm labour wages had shot up because of the NREGA, Congress representative Sandeep Dikshit hoped that the government would write to the Agricultural Costs and Prices Commission to factor this while fixing the procurement prices of crops.

The notable absentees at the meeting were the CPI and BSP representatives. Union Ministers of State Shishir Adhikari and Agatha Sangma and department secretary Rita Sharma attended the meeting.

Accepting the suggestions, Mr. Joshi assured to hold another meeting ahead of the winter session of Parliament, and initiate a cumulative effort to create awareness about the programme to benefit more poor people. He said sufficient funds were provided to the States to cope with the drought situation in the 250 districts across the country to prevent distress migration and make drinking water available.

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