Union Minister for Rural Development Nitin Gadkari has “ordered sweeping changes” in the MGNREGA(Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), mandating that 50 per cent of all the works that are taken up at the district-level under the scheme should only be for water conservation, according to an official statement released here. The Minister has taken this decision with a view to mitigating drought and drought-like situation, it added.
The other changes that Mr. Gadkari plans to introduce include focussing the Centre’s efforts only on the 2,500 backward district blocks identified by the Planning Commission, a top Ministry source told The Hindu . He also instructed the officials to reverse a 2011 decision of the UPA government which allowed States to seek funds from the MGNREGA allocations for constructing Individual Household Latrines (IHHL) under the guidelines of the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan.
When contacted, an expert warned that the Rural Development Minister’s move to dictate from Delhi what works should be taken up at the district level goes against the spirit of the Act even if his intention seems fine in a period of monsoon shortfall. “He could have instead called for educating Gram Sabhas on the need for water conservation works right now and let them make the final choice as the Act mandates,” the expert said requesting anonymity.
‘It will destroy MGNREGA’ Commenting on Mr. Gadkari’s decision to dictate to line agencies at the district-level, Rajya Sabha member and CPI (M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat told the The Hindu : “The decision is incremental dilution by Nitin Gadkari to completely destroy the MGNREGA… the Gram Sabhas deciding the works is critical to the Act, but he is centralising this and making changes to an Act passed by Parliament without reference to Parliament.”
In a period of drought, the main effort of the Centre should have been to provide work and livelihood to those dependent on agriculture, and instead it has reduced fund allocations and is now telling States to target only certain districts, Ms. Karat said.
The UPA government had in September 2011 approved sanitation facilities as one of the permissible works under the Act on the basis of requests from States, according to a Ministry circular. The Ministry source explained that the two schemes were converged as the rules under the Act provided for physical inspections to check if the IHHLs were actually constructed. Nirmal Bharat, however, had no such a provision by which the Centre could effectively find out what was happening to the funds it was allocating, he said.
Though it could be argued, he said that even under the MGNREGA the physical inspections, audits and other checks remained largely on paper but at least the provision was there.
>>The news report, “Gadkari orders sweeping changes in rural job scheme” (Sept. 4, 2014), talked about focussing efforts on 2,500 backward districts identified by the Planning Commission. It should have been 2,500 backward district blocks.