NEW DELHI: Highlighting the plight of the poor in rural areas, particularly women, Brinda Karat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on Monday asked the government to allocate more funds for rural development schemes. She also favoured lowering of productivity norms for minimum wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP) so that more villagers could benefit.
Initiating a discussion in the Rajya Sabha on the working of the Rural Development Ministry, Ms. Karat said that on the one hand the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government had been boasting of a 8-9 per cent GDP growth, and, on the other, funds allocation for various rural development schemes was decreasing. It came down from 0.36 per cent of the GDP in 2005-06 to 0.27 per cent in 2008-09.
Accusing the government of promoting an ‘inspector raj’ while conducting a survey to determine people living Below the Poverty Line (BPL), Ms. Karat said the entire process was a big fraud where the onus lay on a poor family to prove that it qualified for benefits under the scheme. “The entire methodology was erroneous. Through this procedure, the government is trying to eliminate the poor, and not poverty so that it does not have to share any social responsibility towards the poor.”
Merger of programmes
Though it had merged various employment programmes under the NREGP, the government failed to increase the allocation. “It has doubled the number of districts covered under the programme, but the increase in budget has been a meagre 33 per cent. Similarly, the productivity norms involving earth cutting are being raised to save money. It also puts women at a disadvantage. Moreover, the timing of work has been increased in contravention of International Labour Organisation norms.”
Alleging that an “influential lobby” was behind these anomalies and was working to make life more difficult for rural folks, Ms. Karat asked the Centre to make allocations directly to the State government instead of to districts so that money could be utilised more efficiently.
She also asked the government to strengthen women self-help groups and ensure that credit was readily available to them sans any stringent rule and procedure. She urged Railway Minister Lalu Prasad to give the SHGs retail space at stations to sell their products. She said the number of landless farm labourers had risen from 22 to 32 per cent in the recent years, while the achievements under Bharat Nirman were far below the targets.