From Tuesday, rural job programme to cover entire country

March 31st, 2008 - 4:13 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi
By Rajeev Ranjan Roy
New Delhi, March 31 (IANS) India will Tuesday go full steam ahead with its National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREG) which will be extended to all 604 districts in the country, benefiting over 60 million households in 2008-09. The flagship programme of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government guarantees 100 days of employment in a year to one person in a below poverty line (BPL) family.

The government is committed to giving a minimum wage to all those who apply for a job under the scheme, aimed at helping the over 22 percent of Indians living in poverty by providing them jobs and creating durable assets in rural areas.

In 2007-08, NREGS provided jobs to over 30 million households in 330 districts. It was launched in February 2006 in 200 districts and later extended to another 130 districts to provide employment to the poor.

“The number of beneficiaries is likely to go up to 60 million households in the current fiscal after the scheme is rolled out in the remaining 274 districts from April 1, 2008,” a senior official in the ministry of rural development, the nodal agency for the scheme, told IANS.

The ministry will soon call a meeting of the Central Employment Guarantee Council (CEGC), a part of NREG Act, 2005, to ensure that the scheme is implemented smoothly ahead of the assembly elections in key states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan this year.

The CEGC with representations from the rural development ministry, the Planning Commission, Panchyati Raj institutions and disadvantaged groups of the society meets periodically to assess NREGS implementation.

In his budget, Finance Minister P. Chidamabram had allocated Rs.160 billion for implementing the scheme in all districts and promised “more funds … if needed”.

The share of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the scheme was pegged at 61.79 percent in 2006-07 and 58.29 percent in 2007-08, while participation of women in the scheme was estimated to be 42 percent. About 1.5 million works were taken up during 2007-08.

The ministry of rural development, the nodal agency for implementing the scheme, has targeted 100 percent online data management in 200 first-phase districts by March to maintain transparency and accountability.

The NREGS has seen several ups and downs since its launch. India’s official auditor in the first report on the scheme found lapses like the non-utilisation and diversion of funds by states for other purposes.

A pilot study on the scheme’s implementation by the Lal Bahadur Shastri Research Centre for Public Policy and Social Change and the Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management, New Delhi, stated that at least one member from 85 percent of households received employment under the NREG.

The study, conducted in Rae Bareli, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s constituency, Unnao, Barabanki and Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh, had stated that 61 percent of Scheduled Castes and 37 percent of Other Backward Classes were the major beneficiaries of the scheme.

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