Did Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi skip his speech at a meeting on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) here on Thursday, in a bid to distance himself from Rural Development Minister C.P. Joshi?

As per the agenda of the national workshop on ‘NREGA: A step toward governance reform, transparency and accountability,’ Mr. Gandhi, as the guest of honour, was to have spoken for at least 15 minutes. But he dropped the idea of delivering a speech.

Mr. Gandhi, however, spent about an hour listening to speeches by Mr. Joshi, Unique Identification Authority of India Chairman Nandan Nilekani and the former National Knowledge Commission Chairman, Sam Pitroda, and released the blueprint of the proposed Rajiv Gandhi Sewa Kendras to be constructed in each panchayat.

At least, visiting professor at Allahabad University Jean Dreze, who is closely associated with the evolution of the NREGA, was thankful to Mr. Gandhi for not speaking at the meeting and, thereby, distancing himself from the proposal to construct the Rajiv Gandhi Sewa Kendra.

At the meeting, Mr. Joshi announced that the kendras would be built, in a phased manner within three years, to impart skills to rural masses.

Talking to The Hindu, Prof. Dreze said the government had not put forward any such proposal at any of the consultative meetings it held with those connected with the NREGA, not even at the Central Employment Guarantee Council (CEGC) meet held on Tuesday.

He said the Minister had simply pulled the scheme out of a hat. Prof. Dreze was of the opinion that constructing 2.5 lakh kendras with NREGA funds was not acceptable.

He said panchayats needed to be given proper infrastructure but that had to be done through the Panchayat Raj Ministry.

As a matter of fact, the CEGC had remained defunct for well over a year and was hurriedly reconstituted. But the notification was issued after the first meeting was held on Tuesday.

Moreover, a meeting of the CEGC is convened after a due 15-day notice. This was not done in the present case.

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