New Delhi: Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Saturday strongly pitched for utilising MNREGA to increase agricultural production, saying the flagship scheme can play a big role to usher in second green revolution in India.
    
"I am of the belief that MNREGA has tremendous potential to increase agriculture production, which we have not been able to tap fully till date. There are many possibilities not only for creating community assets in villages but also providing irrigation facilities to small and marginalized farmers, developing land and promoting farming.
    
"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 MNREGA can play a big role in fulfilling our dreams of second green revolution," Gandhi said at the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act conference here.
    
Acknowledging the challenges in proper implementation of the scheme, the UPA Chairperson said, "We frequently hear complaints of corruption and misutilisation of funds in this scheme. It is very essential to put a check on this."
    
The government will take steps to reduce its shortcomings through the tools of modern communication and information, she said while maintaining that it was necessary that social audits happened timely and according to norms.
    
In his inaugural address at the conference, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said 30 new works have already been added to the list of works permitted under MNREGA, whose focus is by and large on providing employment in rural areas mainly through agriculture.
    
Besides direct financial benefit, the scheme has given many indirect benefits to the people and brought down the migration graph, he said.
    
"MNREGA has brought momentum in the financial inclusion of our rural population. More than four crore accounts have been opened in banks while more than that has been opened in post offices. These accounts will assist us in reaching the incentives of the Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme to the rural population," the Prime Minister said.

The Prime Minister said the use of Information Technology in MNREGA at many levels has helped making governance better and increase accountability and transparency in government work.
    
Noting that the Centre has taken many new initiatives in relation to this scheme in last one year, Singh said more improvement can be brought if the resources available with MNREGA and Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) can be used together.
    
The Prime Minister asked the Rural Development Ministry to ensure, in consultation with states, that the panchayats are provided full technical assistance.
    
"This will help prepare the labour budget truly as per the local development plan and will facilitate the inclusion of all possible resources. Besides, this will also strengthen the Panchyati Raj institutions and increase people's participation in development works," Singh said.
    
Sharing his concern on panchyati raj institutions, the UPA Chairperson said, "There is a need to think how to make implementation better, how to bring momentum in the empowerment of Panchayati Raj institutions."
    
Noting that there are many challenges, Sonia stressed on reform in the delivery system ruing that despite the rights of employment, a large number of people -- especially those living in the far flung areas -- are deprived of their rights of benefits.
    
"Though the participation of women in this scheme (MREGA) at the national level is almost equal to that of males, but still there are many states where either due to lack of information or lack of amenities at the work place, women are not being able to participate.
    
"It is essential to remove this problem. In Left Wing Extremism-affected districts, this scheme has become a powerful tool of empowerment. There is a need to implement it more forcefully in these areas," she said.
    
Gandhi emphasised the need to strengthen the system to provide employment to workers within 15 days of enrolment and to ensure timely wage payment for their work.
    
"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.
    
The Prime Minister said around eight crore people have benefited from the scheme so far and an amount of Rs 1.3 lakh crore has reached them under the scheme.
    
"People from SC/STs have benefited in more than 50 percent of the works while the participation of women in these schemes has been around 47 percent. Perhaps this has happened for first time that women are getting wages equal to their male counterparts," he said.
    
Singh also noted that 80 per cent of the wages being given to the women are going in banks and post offices. "Due to the scheme, the number of women is on constant rise, who take the financial decisions of their families," he said.
    
This shows how much importance the government gives to the policies and programmes for inclusive growth, Singh said, adding that a close look at the seven-year record of MNREGA shows that it accrued benefits to the poorest in the society especially small farmers and landless labourers.
    
He said the scheme led to good results in management of natural resources, especially in rain-fed areas of the country.
    
"There are enough proofs that the scheme has helped to a great extent in getting the small and very small farmers a better produce by increasing land productivity and water conservation," Singh said.
    
Stress has been given on better planning, increasing the role of panchayats and improving the quality of assets under the amended rules for MNREGA which are being formally implemented today, he said.

(Agencies)

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