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PM launches job guarantee scheme
Focus on rural poor, SCs, STs
Ramesh Kandula
Tribune News Service

Bandlapalli (Andhra Pradesh), February 2
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has today launched the ‘revolutionary’ National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) Scheme in the presence of National Advisory Council Chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

Addressing a massive gathering of villagers in this drought-stricken Rayalaseema region after formally handing over the job card to a local resident, Dr Singh described the legislation as “the most significant act of our times.”

“This will give hope to those who lost hope and will provide them a chance to live a life of self-respect and dignity,” the Prime Minister said.

He further said Panchayat Raj institutions had a key role to play under the Employment Guarantee Act. Gram sabhas, self-help groups, local monitoring committees, beneficiary groups and other forms of community-based organisations were the basic agencies, which will operate and monitor the programme.

“This itself will be an enormous step towards the empowerment of the people. They will acquire a greater role in decision-making and control over resources. I hope gram sabhas in the state will take an active part in preparing plans at the village-level to make use of the new law.

“We must ensure our plans help build new facilities for our villages. We must also learn to create facilities which improve the water position in our villages,” he said.

Dr Singh said the Act, by its very nature, targeted the needs of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and poor women who suffered from abject poverty.

The programme, being touted as the most ambitious move of the UPA government to provide livelihood to the populace below the poverty line, guarantees 100 days of wage employment in a year to every rural household in the country.

The Congress leadership’s eagerness to get the credit for the initiative was evident during the launch, as the public meeting looked more like a party event rather than a government programme.

The Prime Minister said if implemented properly, the programme would check migration of people in search of work and remove a sense of despair.

“The NREG has the clearest focus on the rural poor. It will help those under pressure to migrate elsewhere in search of work. It will also help us get rid of the scourge of poverty,” he said.

Earlier, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi called the scheme as “a new beginning towards the eradication of poverty and employment guarantee.”

She said gram panchayats and gram sabhas had an important role in the scheme, as it was they who decided allocation of works under the programme.

The Act besides guarantying 100 days of employment also provides a social safety net for the vulnerable groups besides providing an opportunity to combine growth with equity.

Under the scheme, the gram panchayat after proper verification will register households and issue job cards to registered households. The job card is the legal document that entitles a person to ask for work under the Act and to get work within 15 days of the demand for work, failing which Unemployment Allowance would be payable

Both Dr Singh and Ms Gandhi underlined the importance of the Right to Information Act (RTI) in this regard, which should be used to ensure total transparency in the implementation of the new scheme.

“If used effectively, these provisions (of RTI) will ensure a corruption-free scheme,” the Prime Minister said.

The purposeful initiative, designed by Jean Dreze, a Belgian economist, who is currently with the Delhi School of Economics, will come into effect from today in 200 districts identified by the Centre. Within five years, the benefit will be extended to the entire country.

The minimum daily wage had been pegged at Rs 60 for both male and female workers, and every person who applies for work will be provided the same within 5 km of his or her residence. A third of the beneficiaries under the programme are to be women.

What is more, if a person does not get employment within 15 days of demand of work, the applicant will get unemployment allowance, ranging from 25 per cent to 50 per cent of the wage rate.

To avoid middlemen and corruption, work through contractors is barred and wages will be paid through banks and post offices.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, Union Ministers Mani Shankar Aiyar, Raghvamshi Prasad Singh, A Narendra, Governor Rameshwar Thakur and others also spoke.
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