With limited funds to deal with the gargantuan task of restoring degraded land and reversing desertification in the country, the government is now planning to bring convergence between the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY).
According to the Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas published by the Environment Ministry in 2021, at least 30% of India’s total geographical area is under the category of “degraded land”.
Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Delhi, Gujarat and Goa have more than 50% of land area undergoing desertification or degradation, while States with less than 10% land degradation are Kerala, Assam, Mizoram, Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Arunachal Pradesh.
In a recent jointly signed advisory, Nagendra Nath Sinha, Secretary, Rural Development, and Ajay Tirkey, Secretary, Department of Land Resources, urged the Chief Secretaries of the States to ensure that the two schemes work in tandem. Under the latter, activities such as ridge area treatment, drainage line treatment, soil and moisture conservation, rainwater harvesting, nursery raising, afforestation, horticulture and pasture development are done. The Union government now wants the States to undertake these activities using MGNREGS funds, which go towards both material and wage components.
In 2019, the government raised its target of restoration of degraded land from 21 million hectares to 26 million hectares by 2030 following a commitment made during the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (COP14). Nearly three years on, the government is nowhere near this target.
Though the Ministry has been making efforts to contribute towards meeting the international commitment, the constraints posed on economy by the pandemic restricted the target to 4.95 million hectares by 2025-26. Therefore, there is a compelling reason for the Ministry to explore alternative opportunities to fulfil the commitment, the advisory read.
The Rural Development Ministry is now hoping that by making use of the MGNREGS, which for the financial year 2022-23 has a budget of ₹73,000 crore, the government can scale up the area to be covered.
As of now, there is Central allocation of ₹8,134 crore for developing 4.95 million hectares.
By the Ministry’s own estimate, a convergence with the MGNREGS could help take up treatment of about 30% more land than feasible with the current scheme size.