Madhusudan Mistry, Member of Parliament from Gujarat, writes:

This refers to the article “Dalits, the poor and the NREGA” ( The Hindu, August 28) in which an apprehension is expressed over the amendment in schedule I of paragraph 1, Sub paragraph (iv) which reads as follows:

“(iv) Provision of irrigation facility, horticulture plantation and land development facilities to land owned by house holds belonging to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes or below poverty line families or to the beneficiaries under the Indira Awas Yojana of Government of India or that of the small farmers or marginal farmers as defined in the Agriculture Debt. Waiver and debt relief scheme, 2008.”

Here in the schedule I, besides Tribals, Dalit, BPL families under the Indira Awas Yojana, and the beneficiaries of land reforms, the government has added the small and marginal farmers as defined in agricultural debt waiver scheme, 2008.”

The apprehension expressed is that by adding the small and marginal farmers, the focus of NREGA will change from tribals and Dalits to small and marginal farmer.

The focus of NREGA as expressed in its objective is to “enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work,” and hence to enhance livelihood security in rural areas as mentioned in the objective is to provide work, and as reported many times, only a minuscule percentage of people could get complete 100 day’s work. This means that either people were not demanding the work, or the administration was not opening the work despite demand for work by the people and was delaying. By adding the small and marginal farmer’s land for work and irrigation work, I am sure, that the demand to open new work under NREGA will increase many fold.

It is presumed that the amendment in the schedule I may take away focus on improving the land, and creating irrigation facilities for Tribals and Dalits and other categories of the farmers mentioned in the unamended provision under section IV of schedule I.

Let us examines this:

First of all let me say that the tribals are also small and marginal farmers. However we — mainly those who argue for the tribals — have not seen them as farmers, or even describe them as farmers. Once we begin to see them as farmers, our perception towards their priorities and needs will change. Let me also say that in tribal areas agriculture is a principal activity to meet the livelihood needs, followed by forest related work and labour.

Dalits too are small and marginal farmers, but large number of them are landless, and hence they work on some one else’s land as agricultural labourer.

The amended provision of small and marginal farmers defined under agricultural debt waiver scheme 2008, will bring large number of OBC farmers in its fold who are also poor, and a large majority of them also have job cards to work on NREGA. A large OBC population lives in the villages with scarce facilities of irrigation and land development. In fact they are farmers cum - labourers and work whether there is drought or not. They live mainly on rain - fed farming. Their inclusion will create more demand for work under NREGA, and will also increase the agricultural wage or it’s own in rural areas and will provide work to the landless masses. If must be remembered that the proportion of agricultural labourers in the total labourers in India (2006) is 26.55 per cent and they must have a choice whether to work on NREGA, or in some farm — work during the agricultural months. I think, the inclusion of small and marginal farmers in the schedule would provide that situation leading to wage hike in agriculture.

Besides, the population of tribals in the country is 8.20 per cent, while that of the scheduled caste is 16.20 per cent, and the OBC percentage is more than 37 per cent. The first two communities, given the attitude and delivery mechanism of the various states, can’t absorb even the budgeted amount under the NREGA. The inclusion of small and marginal farmer will ease that situation.

It is argued that by inclusion of private land owned by small and marginal farmers will affect the work on common property resources on which the landless and other communities depend. Let me say that the most of the common property resources are in the hands of govt. departments and many government departments are doing the work on improving the common property resources like forest, waste lands, and grazing land. The village panchayat can take up the work on common property resources under the NREGA and since the opening of work is demand driven, and as repeatedly emphasized by the government of India that — the NREGA will not suffer due to resource crunch, the opening of new works will not be held back due to lack of money. The Government of India has allocated Rs. 30,000 crore in the Revised Estimate of 2008-09 and Rs. 39,100 crore in the budget of 09-10. It remains to be seen how much of this allocation can be utilised by the states from these allocated amounts in these years.

A fear is also expressed by some that in the village situation SCs/STs’ land will not be taken for improvement, or that the irrigation facilities will get lesser priority for the land belonging to SCs/STs against the small and marginal farmers by the village panchayat, or by the programme officer under NREGA. I suggest a priority list can be prepared by the programme officer. This priority could be as follows for opening the new work on demand:

A. Work on Common property resources.

B. Work on the land of SC/ST etc.

C. Work on the land of Indira Awas Yojana beneficiaries.

D. And work on the land of marginal farmers and small farmers.

I am sure this priority can be decided in the state rural employment guarantee council. Finally, I hope that inclusion of small and marginal farmers in schedule I may result into the stopping of farmer’s suicide in the country.

I welcome the amendment of inclusion of small and marginal farmers.

Keywords: DalitspoorNREGA

More In: Comment | Opinion