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Rural jobs scheme: 3 northeastern states on top

IANS | Agartala |

Three northeastern states — Mizoram, Tripura and Sikkim — topped the country in the just-concluded 2016-17 fiscal in providing work under a flagship rural jobs scheme while two others — Manipur and Assam — are at the very bottom in its execution, an official report has revealed.

While the rest of the country lags, Congress-ruled Mizoram topped for the first time in providing jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) — a staggering 88.43 person days per household — during the fiscal that is almost double the national average of 45.21 days.

Left-ruled Tripura, which until fiscal 2015-16 had occupied the top spot for seven consecutive years, dropped to second position with 79.88 person days per household in the last fiscal.

The Himalayan state of Sikkim, like in the previous year (2015-16), kept its third position with 66.77 person days per household during the fiscal.

According to a performance report of the Union Rural Development Ministry, Tripura, Mizoram and Sikkim had provided 94.46, 68.95 and 66.98 days of jobs in the fiscal.

In sharp contrast, two other northeastern states — Manipur and Assam — were at the very bottom among India's 29 states by providing only 20.94 and 29.38 days of jobs, respectively, between April 2016 and March 2017.

The MGNREGA, which is considered a pioneering rights-based legislation in the world, was introduced in February 2006 by the then Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government.

It mandates 100 days of work in a financial year to at least one member of each rural household — but this has never been achieved in any state. The scheme aims to generate rural assets and create rural infrastructure like roads, ponds and water reservoirs.

The average wage rate was Rs 161.87 per day per person in the last financial year.

"Of the total works, women workers on an average got 55.98 days of jobs across the country in the last fiscal. Of the 262,252 gram panchayats all over India, no job was given in 19,434 gram panchayats in 2016-17," said the performance report, available with IANS.

The northeastern states' repeated success in providing work is attributed by experts to the lack of any other such scheme and absence of major industries in the region.

"Most of the northeastern states have no state government-run rural jobs schemes to provide viable employment to the needy workforce. These states also lack major employment-oriented industries," Tripura (Central) University's Rural Management and Development Department head Jayanta Choudhury told IANS.

"In Tripura, due to good governance, efficient implementation and good work-wise and ward-wise monitoring also contributed to the success of MGNREGA," he added.

Choudhury, who has written books on rural development in the northeastern states, said that implementation of centrally sponsored schemes (CSS) is also good in some of these states.

India's northeastern region, comprising eight states and home to 45.58 million people (2011 census), has limited employment opportunities due to the absence of medium and big industries, projects and job-centric ventures.

Allocation of funds and timely release of the central share of funds under MGNREGA is also a big issue in the northeast.

Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar has claimed that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government is trying to scuttle MGNREGA even though his Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has been demanding 200 days of work in a year under MGNREGA.

"The present central government is gradually curtailing the allocation of funds under the MGNREGA to close the rural job scheme," Sarkar said in Agartala.

"In the outgoing financial year, Tripura has provided around 80 man-days of rural jobs per household under the MGNREGA, but in the current financial year (2017-18), as per the indication of central allocation, the state would be able to provide only 38 to 42 man-days of jobs per household under the scheme," he added.

A senior ministry official, who recently visited Tripura to study the implementation of the schme in the state, denied the central government had planned to scuttle it.

"MGNREGA is an act, it cannot be shut or tailored by the government without the approval of parliament," the official told IANS, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

To demand the required allocation so that Tripura could provide more than 90 days of jobs, Sarkar asked state Rural Development Minister Naresh Jamatia and the three members of parliament from the state to meet Union Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar in New Delhi at the earliest.

"We have already communicated to the union Rural Development Minister about our desire to meet him. We expect that the proposed meeting is likely to be held next week," Jamatia said.