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Rift between Jairam and Pawar over farm labour

Last updated on: September 30, 2011 20:15 IST

Rift between Jairam and Pawar over farm labour

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Sanjeeb Mukherjee and Sreelatha Menon in New Delhi

In a season of inter-ministerial rifts, another one has surfaced.

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh is opposed to using funds under the government's flagship National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to provide cheap agricultural labour to farmers.

The idea was mooted last week by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar in Pune. Ramesh told Business Standard this move would be unacceptable to his ministry.

The rural development ministry is the nodal ministry handling NREGS.

Ramesh conceded he was yet to receive any such formal proposal. But senior agricultural ministry officials confirmed they were working on a joint circular with the rural development ministry to include agricultural labour in activities like harvesting and sowing under NREGS.

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Image: Jairam Ramesh says such a move is unacceptable.

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How funds earmarked for NREGS can be used for direct farming operation like sowing and harvesting is being explored by the ministry, an agriculture ministry official said.

"Something like a joint circular could be worked out to ensure that there is no conflict between the agriculture and rural development ministry," he said.

"There is no difference of opinion between both the ministries, hence we are exploring the idea of a joint circular," he added.

Ramesh's stand is in sync with that of civil society groups, who feel NREGS should not be used to replace any existing employment.

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Image: Ramesh's stand is in sync with that of civil society groups.

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Rift between Jairam and Pawar over farm labour

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Ashwani Kumar, an ex-member of NREGS's Central Employment Guarantee Council, said if NREGS-3 was going to be a scheme to provide cheap farm labour, then NREGS-4 would be 'no NREGS'.

He says the Act was not meant to provide workers to private individuals.

"It would be paving way to a return of feudalism," he warned and charged the agriculture ministry with ideological bankruptcy in failing to find solutions for farms with low yield.

K S Gopal, also an ex-CEGC member and now with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, says NREGS should be used to improve productivity in farms rather than subsidising labour.

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Image: The Act was not meant to provide workers to private individuals.

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"Such a move will kill employment opportunities for farm labourers who may be getting higher wages and large number of work days. Will NREGS provide 200 days of work and higher wages too?" he asked.

Nikhil De, an activist and member of CEGC formed under NREGS, said: "The basic premise of NREGS is to provide jobs for the jobless. So, it is to generate additional work. How can you use it to replace existing jobs?"

Pawar's recent statement came in the context of a massive agitation in Maharashtra's Vidarbha region by several farmer organisations like Shetkari Sanghatana, demanding support for farmers in the drought-hit areas of Vidarbha.

They were demanding NREGS be used to provide cheap labour in these areas.

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Image: Premise of NREGS is to provide jobs for the jobless, says an activist.

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Says Vijay Jaywantia, who heads Shetkari Sanghatana: "We wound up the agitation after Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan heard us and said the state government could discuss the logistics of using the rural employment scheme of Maharashtra to provide labour in drought-hit tehsils.

He said the matter could be taken up further with the Centre.

However, Chavan said no decision had been taken on the matter.

Pawar, in his statement, had said the Centre was proposing to use NREGS to provide farm labour, with the Centre bearing 75 per cent of the wages, while the private individual in whose farm the worker would be employed would pay the rest, even at market rates.

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Image: Prithviraj Chavan says no decision has been taken on the matter.

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Farmer organisations like Kisan Mitra and Shetkari Sanghatana charge the activists who oppose use of NREGS with ignorance and short sightedness.

"The activists oppose this as they consider the farmers as rich landlords. But in Bundelkhand farmers go and work in each other's fields as they have no money to pay workers,'' the organisations say.


Image: Farmer organisations accuse the activists of ignorance.

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