Prime Minister Narendra Modi could announce a revamp of the government’s seasonal job guarantee scheme in rural areas, by using it to support agricultural activities.
In his maiden Independence Day speech from the ramparts of Red Fort on Friday, he is expected to dwell on the need to revamp the agricultural sector and to use the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) for the purpose.
Officials said Modi, who attaches much importance to revitalisation of agriculture, was expected to announce initiatives through which labourers employed under MGNREGS could be used to create durable agriculture assets like bunds, embankments, small irrigation projects, etc, in farmlands during the non-sowing period.
“The scope of MGNREGS will be widened to support agricultural activities. The Prime Minister may announce this in his I-Day speech. Inputs of various ministries were sought on this issue,” said a finance ministry official, on condition of anonymity.
The move is aimed at enabling MGNREGS labourers to get regular employment and also solve the problem of shortage of farm labour, which in turn could give a boost to agriculture activity.
“The matter has been discussed with PMO (PM’s Office) a few days back and one agenda of the Prime Minister could be to dwell on linking MGNREGS and agriculture,” confirmed an official in the agriculture ministry.
During the tenure of the earlier government, the agriculture ministry had proposed to allow MGNREGS workers in farmlands during sowing to solve the problem of labour shortage. It was, however, shot down by the rural development ministry on the grounds that this could encourage ‘bonded labour’.
“MGNREGA will be converged with livelihood. There will be more focus on individual beneficiaries,” said another finance ministry official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Earlier this week, Minister of State for Rural Development Upendra Kushwaha had said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha that there were irregularities in implementation of the scheme and steps were being taken to rectify the problem.
The PM is also expected to talk about India’s tough stand at the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations and through it the need to ensure affordable food security to the people.
“The government managed to salvage the ambitious National Food Security Act because of its tough stand in WTO and the Prime Minister might talk something about this,” another official said.
He added the need for restructuring of Food Corporation of India (FCI) to ensure its efficient operation could also be part of the Prime Minister’s speech.
The PMO has already cleared the constitution of a high-level committee of experts to study various methods to revamp FCI.
On inflation, the Prime Minister might list the steps taken so far and also how it has moved forward to amend the Essential Commodities Act.
The department of consumer affairs has initiated the process of amending this law and the Black Marketing and Hoarding Act, which would make hoarding a non-bailable offence and extend the punishment to one year from six months at present.