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Ramesh rejects Pawar’s suggestion on rural jobs


New Delhi : Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh Wednesday rejected Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s suggestion for curbs on offering jobs to villagers during the three-month peak farming season and said the rural employment scheme’s expanded version will take shape from April 1 with a thrust on boosting farm output.

“We have not accepted the demand for peak season moratorium,” Ramesh told reporters at a press conference after studying the recommendations of the Mihir Shah committee set up to strengthen synergy between the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) rural jobs scheme and rural livelihood.

The perception of conflict between the rural jobs scheme and agriculture was based “on a number of misconceptions and exaggerations”, he said.

Pawar had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh November last year demanding that at least three months in a year should be considered “off-duration” for the MGNREGA so that farm labourers were available for agricultural operations.

He said that his ministry was in the process of finalising the modified guidelines of the MGNREGA, ahead of unveiling its expanded version – MGNREGA 2 – April 1.

The minister said that the average annual person-days under the rural jobs scheme had never exceeded 54 days. “The month-wise employment data under the MGNREGA during 2010-11 indicates that it was in the lean agricultural season (January-June) that around 70 percent of person-days of work were generated,” he said.

Pointing out that 70 percent of the expenditure under the MGNREGA had been on works related to water, the minister said that the need of the hour was to strengthen synergy between MGNREGA and agriculture.

Ramesh said the prime minister also emphasised boosting agricultural production and productivity through the rural jobs scheme.

He said a new version of the MGNREGA, based on the experience gained over the past six years, will be launched from the start of 12th Five Year Plan based on the recommendations of the Mihir Shah panel.

Ramesh said the modified guidelines of the scheme will lead to greater efficiency and transparency while enhancing productivity. “There is no change in the basic tenets of the MGNREGA,” he said.

He said that steps had also been taken to reduce delay in payments and check misuse of funds under the scheme.

The committee, in its recommendations, suggested expansion of MGNREGA works by including those related to agriculture, livestock, fisheries, coastal areas, rural drinking water and rural sanitation.

It suggested setting up of cluster facilitation teams and presentation of annual budget by the gram panchayat at the gram sabha meeting every Aug 15.