Activists warn against NITI proposal to subsidise agricultural labour through MGNREGA funds

NEW DELHI: Leading activists have warned the BJP-led Centre against a NITI Aayog proposal to subsidise agricultural labour through MGNREGA funds.

Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, September 2

Leading activists have warned the BJP-led Centre against a NITI Aayog proposal to subsidise agricultural labour through MGNREGA funds, urging it to reject the attempt to provide the distressed sector support at the “cost of the objectives” of the flagship programme of the previous Congress-led UPA government.    

A letter to Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar signed by 28 prominent persons—“activists and academics closely involved in the design, implementation and evaluation of the MGNREGA”— called the proposal “ill conceived” and something that “could potentially do harm to MGNREGA itself”.

Aruna Roy of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) said that it had come to the attention of peoples’ campaigns that a proposal to subsidise agricultural labour through MGNREGA funds was being considered by NITI Aayog and the Ministry of Rural Development.

“We believe that the goal of the working committee that NITI Aayog has constituted which is to consider proposals for using MGNREGA to enhance farmers’ incomes and reduce agrarian distress, is already being actively pursued by MoRD. We are therefore puzzled by the need for this ‘new’ committee,” she said

“The real threat that this committee may pose to the programme is a recommendation to subsidise agricultural labour using MGNREGA funds. While none of us dispute the very pressing need to support the agricultural sector, we feel that the attempt to give it support at the cost of the objectives of MGNREGA must be rejected.

“The proposal is ill conceived and could potentially do harm to MGNREGA itself. We hope that you will be in agreement with our reasons for opposing this proposal and urge the Ministry of Rural Development to clarify its position at the earliest and not introduce counterproductive measures like this which will compromise the legal mandate of the MGNREGA,” she said.

According to a press statement by Niti Aayog on July 12, the government has initiated discussions on the utilisation of MGNREGA for subsidising agriculture. For this purpose, it has constituted a sub-group of seven chief ministers.

The first meeting of this group took place at NITI Aayog on July 12 and five regional consultations have been conducted since.

The terms of reference of the working group calls for its members to “make recommendations on interventions of MGNREGSA that can facilitate reduction of agrarian distress, explore the possibilities of MGNREGS as a livelihood resource for development and diversification of livelihoods of small and marginal farmers” and “to align works under MGNREGS fully to the requirements of achieving the goal of higher Farmers’ Incomes”, says the letter.

While these terms are seemingly innocuous and even echo the position of peoples’ campaigns and small farmers’ unions, it is puzzling why a new committee needed to be constituted for an agenda that is already being actively pursued at the national and state levels. It is the proposal to subsidise agricultural labour through MNREGA funds indicated by the statements of some members of this working committee which poses a real threat to the program, it adds. 

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