Centre to Employ NREGS to Fight Drought
Puts drought-proofing work on mission mode & sets June deadline for states under the jobs scheme to ensure rainfall is used for water harvesting; funds allocated to programme to be prioritised for benefit of affected states
New Delhi: The government has put drought-proofing work by states on mission mode and set a deadline for June under the National Rural Employment Guarantee programme to ensure monsoon rainfall is used for water harvesting.
Officials said funds allocated to the flagship rural jobs programme will be prioritised for the benefit of drought-hit states. Drought management is a state subject, but in an observation on Tuesday the Supreme Court said that the Central government’s responsibility does not end with providing funds. “We want to cover as much ground as possible before the monsoon season starts…This year, we are being very prompt with our payments from the beginning of the year to encourage states to take up more work,” said a senior government official, who did not wish to be identified. The weather department has predicted a normal monsoon rainfall this year, but vast swathes of the country are reeling under severe water shortage after two years of below-average monsoon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said he was aware that the country is faced with a drought situation and acute shortage of water, but said a good monsoon is expected this year.
“Can I use the remainder of the time from April to June to use NREGA funds in driving a campaign for water conservation? Through desilting, creation of farm ponds, cleaning up canals, I can use all the available resources towards water conservation so that we can survive even if we do not get adequate rains,” Modi said, in his address at the 10th Civil Services Day awards ceremony. As per government data, 256 districts across India are in the grip of drought, accounting for about 33 crore people or a quarter of the country’s population. The government has swiftly disbursed more than .₹ 12,000 crore from its total allocation of .₹ 38,500 crore in pending payments to states since the Supreme Court rap.
The rural development ministry has released an additional tranche of funds to the tune of .₹ 19,000 crore for May and June in advance payments to states, so that water conservation works do not get stuck for paucity of funds. About 55% of the total budget allocation has already been transferred to the states now, officials said.
A detailed state-wise plan to build farm ponds and vermicomposting units has been drawn up for implementation in the current fiscal. The target is to add 877,000 farm ponds and wells, and a million vermicomposting farms by the end of this year.
The Centre has asked states including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Rajasthan to ramp up their rural development plan and take up more works under NREGA.“While allocation to states is as per demand we have strategised in advance this year to estimate how much each state needs to spend,” the official said. The government hopes to generate 30-40% of the total labour person days for 2016-17 by June. Demand for work is expected to fall if the monsoon rainfall is good this year.
In 2015-16 the person-day generation of work under the scheme was the highest in the second quarter at 45.88 crore, and even higher in the third quarter, at 46.2 crore, than it has been in the past five years mainly due to poor monsoon.
In 2013, the government had increased the guaranteed number of days of work under NREGA from 100 days to 150. However, this has not translated into generation of work at the ground level due to lack of funds and delay in payments. NREGA is beset by delayed payments, with 54% beneficiaries facing this problem.
After SC rap, the Centre has disbursed over 12,000 cr from total allocation of 38,500 cr in pending payments to the states