Crop failure: more coming under job guarantee scheme

MUMBAI APRIL 9. Already, 5.38 lakh persons affected by job losses due to drought-related crop failure this year are working under the Employment Guarantee Scheme in Maharashtra and, according to official sources, "it would be no surprise if it reaches 15 lakhs per day" in the next few weeks.

So far, about Rs. 800 crores have been spent in the 2002-03 fiscal on the scheme under which a group of ten persons can demand and secure work from the Government close to their villages.

According to estimates, another Rs. 300 crores may be needed till the arrival of the monsoons. Interestingly, the Maharashtra Government — which had asked for Rs. 1,550 crores Central assistance to combat the drought conditions — has not found it difficult to keep the scheme going mainly because it levies a tax on professions and a surcharge on road tax.

Also, it provides a matching grant to build a corpus for the scheme. However, due to the cash strapped nature of the exchequer, there are delays in payments to the workers.

The scheme, despite its laudatory dimension of jobs-on-demand in the rural area and a key factor in lowering rural poverty since 1972, is riddled with corruption and often, one comes across situations where contractors use machinery instead of employing people.

The lower receipts from the Centre, however, jeopardises the efforts at providing drinking water to the people already affected by the inadequate power supply given the huge — about 2,000 MW — gap in supply and demand.

Across Maharashtra, the storage in all reservoirs, even with most of them reserved for drinking water supply, is at about a quarter of its full capacity and, in most cases, the ground water levels have gone down by about a meter in just one season, aggravating the situation.