The NDTV Dialogues: Reforming MNREGA Essential or Death Knell?

New Delhi:  As some changes are being proposed in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, will they actually make it much more efficient or will it essentially dilute the whole essence of MNREGA? On The NDTV Dialogues, a special discussion with Jairam Ramesh, former UPA Minister, Suresh Prabhu, former NDA minister, tipped to be the head of the revamped plan panel, Arjun Meghwal, BJP MP and activist Nikhil Dey.

Here is an excerpt from the discussion:

Sonia Singh: Mr Ramesh final words from you tonight, are your objections, ideological turning the mirror back to you in a sense, because your objections are ideological, these schemes you are very close to, are you not open to Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or NREGA 3.0?

Jairam Ramesh: No, there are opponents of NREGA and Land Acquisition act everywhere. It's not that every party is homogeneous in its view. I have had to fight  battles within the UPA to get the Land Acquisition Act through, you know there were cynics about the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA as many cynics perhaps in the BJP in the UPA alliance so, it is a certain ideology.

Sonia Singh: In 2009, this scheme had more vote catching power than they had in 2014?

Jairam Ramesh: I don't reduce schemes to vote catching powers, I have never believed that we came back in 2009 only because of NREGA. We have to (do) implement these schemes because these are in the interest of the public. I don't think you embark on this because you want to come back to power. These are implemented, laws are introduced because of a need felt in the society. Aadhar has been introduced because we want to reduce leakages. We want to ensure that people get their entitlements at their doorstep. NREGA was introduced because of the need which was felt of giving public works to people who can't get employment in any other source. The Land Acquisition Act was introduced because farmers were not getting adequate compensations for the land that was acquired, by not getting any compensation.

Sonia Singh: Is it that in India today these schemes don't have resonance to it?

Jairam Ramesh: No No, I think there is resonance, I think people will get hurt. If the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA is abandoned, I think people will get hurt if the Land Acquisition Act is abandoned, the way people are talking about it seems there will be a backlash whether there is a political issue or not that is a separate thing. I am talking about people's issue, these are not political issues. I look at it from that point of view. Political parties are of course, because political parties are not Non Governmental Organisations or NGOs, political parties try to take benefit of the schemes and programs that are introduced. But I don't think that you should look at NREGA, the Land Acquisition and all these schemes purely from a political angle.

Suresh Prabhu: If the intention of the government was to scrap, we would have scrapped it. So there is nothing like scrapping the scheme. In fact, the scheme needs to be improved. The whole idea is to bring in better accountability. How to bring in more flexibility, how to bring in a more customized solution to the situation which prevails in a particular place and cannot be generalized so these are the basically the right issues.

In terms of allocation, that is what your concern is what the finance minister has said. Any point of time you need money, we will give you.

Therefore, there is nothing like money will be the constraint for it. The issue is really speaking as you correctly said, If people want a job, guaranteed employment, it should be provided.

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