New Delhi: An operational guideline suggested for a radically improved version of MNREGA calls for "urgent measures" to convert the rural job scheme into a productivity-enhancing instrument, particularly in the agriculture sector.
   
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, who unveiled the new guideline prepared by a committee headed by Planning Commission Member Mihir Shah, however, rejected Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's demand that at least three months should be considered as an off-duration for MNREGA so that agriculture labourers are available for farming.
   
The revised Operational Guidelines for MNREGA 2.0 suggests the strengthening of the synergy between the job scheme and rural livelihoods especially agriculture and allied sectors, and respond to demands of the states for greater location-specific flexibility in permissible works.
   
It says MNREGA programme should be utilised to improve the ecological balance in rural India and to provide a cleaner, healthier environment to its people.
   
Rejecting Pawar's demand, Ramesh said the average person-days of work generated under the programme never exceeded 54 days per household and the month-wise employment data under MNREGA during FY 2010-11 has indicated that "it is in the lean agriculture season (January-June), that around 70 per cent of person-days of work were generated".
   
"An analysis of the quantum of MNREGA works provided across the year indicates a powerful seasonal fluctuation, with a disproportionately higher share of works being done during the off-season in agriculture," he said. Ramesh said the need of the hour is to allow the largest possible number of works which help strengthen the synergy between MNREGA and agriculture without compromising on the fundamental features of the Act or its architecture.
 
Acknowledging the fact that a large proportion of MNREGA workers are small and marginal farmers, the Minister said the productivity of these lands has been so decimated over the years that they have been compelled to work under the scheme.
     
"The real success of MNREGA will lie in raising the agriculture productivity of millions of these farmers who will then be able to return once again to farming and will no longer need to depend on MNREGA for their survival," he said.
 
Ramesh said the new guidelines for the MNRGEA-2.0 to be implemented from April was prepared after consulting the state governments which gave valuable suggestions to address the shortcomings found in the programme.
 
"Broadly, I would say that we are not going for any change in the law but the guidelines, rules and schedule of works would be changed. That means we will not be required to go back to Parliament as there will not be any change in the law," he said.
     
So far around 70 per cent expenditure in MNREGA has been in the field of water, but several apprehensions have been raised and the Agriculture Minister also said on several occasions that MNREGA should give more impetus to the agri-products, he said.
 
"I think the suggestions especially for the field of agriculture, to increase the agri productivity and to increase the potential of productivity in agriculture is given importance." Ramesh said.

The Minister said several barren land in backward areas have benefited from MNREGA and the Committee has given several recommendations for this.
 
On the states' demand for the utilisation of the scheme for creating better sanitation facilities in the rural areas, Ramesh said the government is providing only a subsidy of Rs
3,000 for the construction of the toilet for each household and suggested a better coordination with MNREGA to provide better facility.
 
In 78 naxal-affected districts, MNREGA has created a new environment, he said, adding that, "People are coming for jobs, they are getting money and it has been helpful in addressing the Maoist menace."
     
Planning Commission Member Mihir Shah said 13 new works have been suggested in the new version.
 
Calling it a demand driven programme, Shah said the new guidelines suggested that "initiative may be taken to develop software that makes MNREGA Management Information System (MIS) automatically generate the pay order of unemployment allowance to such a wage seeker whose demand for work has not been met within 15 days of demand for work".
     
"Report prepared on this will have to be part of the essential set of reports to be tracked at the state-level," he said.
 
Shah said it also proposed for the Constitution of Social Audit Unit, a society or a directorate independent of the implementing departments.
 
"The Comptroller and Auditor General of India, or any person appointed by him in this behalf, shall have the right to conduct audit of the accounts of schemes at such intervals as he may deem fit," the guideline suggests.
 
It also proposes to set up a three-tier mechanism at state, district and local level to pro-actively detect irregularities in the implementation of the Act.

(Agencies)