Who will profit from the rural job scheme?

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Mumbai: How much will the rural employment guarantee programme (REGP) cost? The National Advisory Council (NAC) has calculated the recurring annual expenditure at Rs 35,000-40,000 crore, if restricted to below-poverty line (BPL) families. However, the government may have made every rural family eligible for job guarantee, pushing up the outlay required to around Rs150,000 crore.

The outcome budget also seems to be in line with the NAC’s calculations. The ‘national food-for-work programme’ (NFWP) has targeted the creation of 7,500-lakh man days of work in 150 of the country’s most backward districts, for which it has allocated Rs 6,000 crore this fiscal. NAC’s calculations for the expenditure to be incurred on the REGP are identical to the NFWP outlays.

The daily man-day cost is Rs80. The cost of providing 100 days of employment at Rs80-per day to 4.5 crore BPL families, would involve an outlay of Rs36,000 crore, say the NAC’s economists.

Will it be only the poor who will seek the guaranteed employment that REGP strives to provide or will other unemployed rural job seekers, with legal guarantee on the part of state to employ them, swell these figures to Rs150,000? When asked about the cost of REGP, finance minister Chidambara, himself said, ”It will depend on the number of job seekers as also on the natural climatic and seasonal factors.”

According to distinguished commentator, Prem Shankar Jha, the REGP suffers major drawbacks. He points out that each of the 10 five year plans have each provided outlays similar to the Rs128,000 crore for rural development in the current budget, yet , the villages remain as poor and degraded as they were four decades ago in more than half of India.

This, says Jha, is because between 70 per cent to 85 per cent is of the allocations are siphoned away by a well-entrenched network of corrupt state functionaries that include gram pradhans to the BDOs, zilla parishad members and MLAs.

Second, he observes, “There is a wealth of evidence that the jobs it will create are not the jobs that the poor want. What the poor now want for their children are jobs outside agriculture. Between 1994 and 2002 they took six million children off the fields and sent them to school.”He cites a recent survey of 51,000 farm households, reported in The Hindu that showed that 40 per cent of the respondents did not want to continue being farmers.

The REGA, however, provides jobs only in the rural areas and at the bottom of the pyramid of income and status, when what they want is jobs in factories, offices and towns. A better way, Jha observes, is making the poor into permanent stake holders in the development process by ensuring them permanent royalty income for being alienated from the fields that are acquired for infrastructure and other projects.

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