NEW DELHI: Pitching for immediate reforms in the Centre's flagship rural job scheme MGNREGA, Congress President Sonia Gandhi today said the complaints of corruption and irregularities regarding the scheme cannot be ignored.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Gandhi also expressed concern over delay in wage payment to MGNREGA workers, emphasising the need to ensure that they get it within 15 days.
"Talks about reform in MGNREGA are taking place for quite a long time. The time has now come that we implement them...We cannot igonre the complaints that are coming regarding the irregularties and corruption in the scheme," Gandhi said addressing the MGNREGA Conference 2012 here.
Gandhi said that she was happy that the CAG will also look into the expenditure under the scheme. "Corruption in MGNREGA is a great injustice to the country and a crime in respect of the Father of the Nation after which it is named," she said.
"We have achieved successes in MGNREGA in last six years but there are still many challenges before us. The biggest concern is to ensure timely wage payments to workers. For this, the banks and post offices will have to increase their reach. Our effort will be to ensure that the workers get their wages within 15 days," Singh said.
Gandhi said,"The delay in payment of their wages is illegal and unacceptable to us under any circumstances. We will have to ensure that MGNREGA workers get timely payment."
Flagging the challenges ahead in the implementation of the scheme, Gandhi also pointed out, "There is unfortunately an apathy towards it in some states especially those states, which are considered poor."
In an indication that the UPA's flagship scheme could undergo crucial changes in near future, Gandhi wondered that while MGNREA is primarily a guarantee against poverty and employment in rural areas, whether it can be also used for bringing comprehensive reform in public health or managing natural resources in a better way in rural areas.
The Prime Minister also felt that MGNREGA could play a key role in all-round development of villages. "But for this, there will be a need to coordinate this scheme with other schemes for rural development."
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said that the shortcomings and criticism of MGNREGA cannot be ignored and promised to bring changes and reforms shortly. "We have already discussed the issue with the states and will be making it public by the next month," he said.
Noting that lack of staffs lead to delays in completing the processes required for timely payment of wages to MGNREGA workres, the Prime Minister asked the states to give greater emphasis on resolving this issue.
Singh was of the view that the full potential of MGNREGA has not been exploited till now and voiced confidence that if the scheme was run properly and implemented better at ground level, this can become a model rural development scheme.
The Prime Minister said a second green revolution could be facilitated by developing land providing irrigation facilities under MGNREGA.
"We desire that small farmers and poor families in particular benefit from this scheme. Hence, we have recently decided that works related to irrigation, farming and land development can be done on the land belonging to the SC, ST and BPL people," he said.
Singh felt the rate of development will go up in the disricts, where MGNREGA is implemented, reducing the reasons for which people sometimes adopt the path of violence.
Echoing similar views, Gandhi noted that some changes should be brought in the scheme for Naxal-affected districts.
She said that panchayats, which have primary responsibility for implementing MGNREGA, were being strengthened.
She said the scheme has helped arrest migration from the affected parts of the country as people were getting jobs closer to their homes.