As the United Progressive Alliance’s flagship rural job scheme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) completes eight years, the Union Government has called for expanding its scope by using it to enhance agricultural production.
Addressing the MNREGA Divas celebrations at Vigyan Bhawan here on Saturday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi also suggested strong measures to curb corruption in the implementation of the job-guarantee scheme. The Prime Minister said eight crore people had benefited from the scheme and Rs 1.3 lakh crore had been spent on it. He said under-privileged people from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes had benefited in over half of the works. He said participation of women in these schemes had been around 47 per cent. “Perhaps this has happened for first time that women are getting wages equal to their male counterparts,” Singh added.
The Prime Minister said there was enough proof that the scheme had helped to a great extent in getting small and very small farmers better produce by increasing land productivity and water conservation.
He said bank and post-office accounts, already opened under the scheme, would help the Centre in providing direct cash transfers to the people. “MGNREGA has brought momentum in the financial inclusion of our rural population. Besides direct financial benefit, the scheme has given many indirect benefits to the people and brought down the migration graph,” he added.
Gandhi said MGNREGA had tremendous potential to increase agriculture production. “There are many possibilities, not only for creating community assets in villages but also providing irrigation facilities to small and marginalised farmers, developing land and promoting farming,” she added.
The Jaipur Declaration of the recently held Chintan Shivir of the Congress party had suggested that farmers should be allowed to use workers from the scheme. “Manifold increase in the produce of farmers can be made by connecting this scheme with the use of modern technologies in agriculture. There is no doubt that MGNREGA can play a big role in fulfilling our dreams of second Green Revolution,” Gandhi added.
But, she said, it was essential to put a check on the corruption and misuse of funds in the scheme. She said the scheme had become a powerful tool of empowerment in Left-wing-extremism-affected districts. “Apart from providing employment to the rural population, there is also a challenge of permanent assets creation, which is relevant in total rural development,” she said.