India’s rural job scheme also addressing climate change

February 8th, 2009 - 12:44 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 8 (IANS) India’s flagship rural job scheme has resulted in some rather unusual spin-offs, chief among them reducing the impact of climate change, a top official says.
This apart, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) that was launched three years ago is helping address the problem caused by reverse migration as thousands of unskilled workers return home due to the slowdown in infrastructure and other sectors, said Rita Sharma, secretary in the rural development ministry that administers the scheme.

The scheme, for which Rs.300 billion (Rs.30,000 crores) has been earmarked for fiscal 2008-09, has contributed to gender equality in some states as even semi-educated women have begun serving as supervisors in NREGS projects, Sharma pointed out.

“The nature of jobs being created are green jobs. Today, one individual from 3.5 crore (35 million) households across the country are engaged in 20 lakh (two million) projects, half of them relating to water conservation,” she said at a select media briefing here.

“This will result in drought proofing through the conservation of water bodies and in the long run reduce water stress,” Sharma maintained.

The water conservation projects, the official said, would result in the creation of “durable and sustainable assets that, over a period of time, will also ensure that the productivity of the land will go up and increase the income of farmers”.

Launched in 2006 and now extended to all 615 rural districts in the country, NREGS promises 100 days of work a year to one member of a family.

Thus far, over 3.5 billion days of work have been created and, till mid-December 2008, 90 million individuals - 50 percent of them women - have been collectively paid Rs.282 billion (over Rs.28,000 crores)in wages, statistics with the rural development ministry show.

Over the last three years, 4.7 million projects have been taken up, roughly 50 percent of them relating to water conservation.

Other projects relate to providing irrigation facilities on land owned by the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and those living below the poverty line, rural connectivity and land development.

Given that Indian states have laid down different minimum wages, the average wage under NREGS works out to Rs.85 a day. The highest is Rs.136 in the north Indian state of Haryana.

“In real terms, what this means is that through the scheme, we are able to provide a family of five with one third of an annual wage of Rs.30,000, above which a family is considered to be above the poverty line,” Sharma pointed out.

“Also remember that rural families have a full 265 days left to earn the balance amount,” she pointed out.

The NREGS has had a ripple effect on wages paid to casual farmhands, who now demand a similar wage from landowners.

“This in its own way is contributing to strengthening the purchasing power of rural workers and preventing their exploitation. This is because till now, there was no benchmark against which farmhands could demand a fair wage,” Sharma contended.

With the labour ministry estimating that some 500,000 semi-skilled and skilled workers in the organised sector have lost their jobs as a consequence of the global financial crisis, this has raised the spectre of reverse migration to rural areas to which they belong.

“Obviously, we will not be able to provide jobs to all of those who are forced to return home, but we can still contribute to some extent,” Sharma maintained.

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