NEW DELHI: NREGA, the largest employment generation programme in the world, will no longer be a ‘digging and ditch-filling exercise’.
Determined to make NREGA-2 more productive, the Jairam Ramesh-headed Rural Development Ministry is going for a total revamp of the scheme, one of the crucial factors which helped the Congress-led UPA to have a second term.
The ministry had appointed a committee headed by Planning Commission member Mihir Shah to suggest reforms and the committee has finalised its report.
The most important recommendation of the committee is that the NREGA should be linked to asset creation rather than just digging pits. “We want to turn NREGA from a digging exercise to a more result oriented scheme which would create tangible assets,” said one of the members in the expert committee. Accordingly, there would not be any more endless road constructions, which had been the most important work under the NREGA. Instead, priority will be given to watershed management, water conservation and maintenance of water bodies.
“We have estimated that far too much emphasis was placed on roads till now and a good number of them have not survived beyond two or three years. This has to stop,” he said. Another significant development is that the NREGA will not be the sole prerogative of panchayats. It will be a collective engagement of civil engineers, hydrologists and planners.
“It has been decided that all the assets being created under NREGA must be planned in such a way that they all should sustain the passage of time,” the member said.Another thrust would be on capacity building and skill development and for this, the government is planning to deploy engineers and planning experts at panchayat level.
Stress would also be on afforestation under NREGA by linking it with other forestry programmes. “Most of the states have given scant attention to afforestation and water conservation as they were less lucrative. So NREGA-2 would be mostly about preserving natural resources even though it may not be appealing,” the member said.The ministry is also thinking on the lines of expanding the ambit of permissible works under NREGA so as to include various regional and state-wise demands.
According to an official with the ministry, the basic essentials of NREGA would not be changed but the new version would be a ‘manicured’ NREGA. “There will be no change in the basic premises but no contractors can be used as machinery is not being used. But NREGA-2 will have more flexibility in its programme as far as the selection and nature of works are concerned,” said an official with the RD Ministry. According to the official, the ministry was also assessing the impact of NREGA on rural people. The most important achievement of NREGA, according to him, was that it had resulted in increased agriculture wages.
“The fact is that agricultural wages have gone up across the country which indirectly has resulted in stopping distress migration,” the official added.