Job guarantee scheme to get farmer-friendly face
MGNREGA –II promised in a draft readied by the Planning Commission on the request of Rural Development Minister
Farmers will no longer have complaint of acute labour shortage during peak season owing to the farm hands preferring the less laborious work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
A farmer-friendly face of the job guarantee scheme is promised in a draft readied by the Planning Commission on the request of Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh. It will be rechristened as MGNREGA-II.
The draft submitted to Ramesh on Friday envisages to cover agricultural activities like sowing, harvesting, soil and compost preparation, irrigation and allied activities like tending livestocks, which were a big no-no in the scheme meant to engage the workers only on the developmental works and not on the private farms.
To begin with, the farm activities will be allowed under the scheme only in 2,000 backward blocks, with a goal of putting back the small and marginal farmers, who form the bulk of the MGNREGA workers (almost two-third), on their own small farms instead of taking up employment under the scheme which guarantees job for 100 days in a year.
It envisages payment from the MGNREGA funds to those engaged in the farm labour but it will be provided only to a specific number of people and for a specific number of days. Farmers across the country have been complaining since the launch of the MGNREGA, the flagship programme of the UPA Government, that it is causing labour shortage and forcing them to coup up higher wages.
In Andhra Pradesh, some farmers are reported to have even gone on a crop holiday as token protest. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar promised Parliament early this week to probe such an action at a time when the government is tuned to increase the farm production.
In its draft report, the Planning Commission has stressed that this problem arose since the job guarantee scheme was launched without assessing the labour's demand and supply scenario. It has, therefore, suggested a "labour budget" survey every five years to help in planning the scheme more accurately as the government will then know how, where and when of the labour demand.
"Today we don't have any registration of demand. So we don't know when and how much is the demand," says Planning Commission member Mihir Shah, who has prepared the draft paper. Once the survey gives correct picture of the labour in the rural areas, the government can plan MGNREGA work peak and non-peak season. Labourers can be put into agricultural work during peak season and on developmental works in the non-peak season.
Shah says advance planning and announcement of the work would also prevent the distress migration. If the villagers know when they will be provided work in the lean season, they won't migrate to cities in search of work.
When the Agriculture Ministry sparked a debate on the adverse fallout of MGNREGA on agriculture in a letter to the Rural Development Ministry suggesting temporary halt of works under the scheme during the peak agriculture season, Ramesh retorted that the government is bound by the Act of Parliament not to refuse work to anybody approaching it under the scheme.
In a letter to Pawar, he also sought to stress that the average number of days the jobs are provided under the scheme are only 46, though permissible up to 100 days, and only nine days out of these were during the peak agricultural season. Pawar could not fathom from where Ramesh has pulled out these figures, but suspected a cook-up as he has asked the ministry to get him data to justify his claim that the farm labourers become difficult to be found during the peak season unless the farmer pays hefty wages to desist them from seeking jobs under the MGNREGA.
Iftikhar Gilani is Special Correspondent with Tehelka.com