Jobs scheme sees fewer small farmers as job seekers

Written by Kirtika Suneja | Sandip Das | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 14 2013, 07:42am hrs
The UPA governments flagship National Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) has helped marginal farmers to stand on their own feet, an analysis of the pattern of job-seeking under the scheme reveals. This is because a couple of years or so of NREGS work by these farmers on their own small holdings improves the productivity of their land, enabling them to no longer seek jobs under the popular scheme. Water conservation, creation of irrigation structures and land development work undertaken under NREGS have increased the farm yield.

As per an assessment by the ministry of rural development, out of the total number of individual beneficiaries on whose land work has been undertaken since the start of NREGS, almost 50% no longer seek employment under the scheme.

In 2011-12, only 12% of the total NREGS work has been on private lands as against 20% in 2008-09.

In 2012-13, 4.16 crore households were provided employment under the scheme. The government has already spent close to R1.7 lakh crore on the the mega job guarantee scheme since it was launched in 2006, and another R33,000 crore has been budgeted for 2013-14.

This (the trend of marginalised farmers becoming self-dependent due to NREGS) may suggest that the scheme is realising its objective. There could be other possible reasons such as beneficiaries not being provided work after work has been taken up on their land, a rural development ministry official told FE, quoting the monthly progress reports of the ministry.

At present, NREGS allows work such as irrigation, horticulture and other development on private land belonging to the people from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, families below the poverty line, and small and marginal farmers. The government has recently decided to bring building railway underpasses under the ambit of the scheme.

Permitting private work on lands of small and medium farmers implies a coverage of 40% of all cultivated area (80% of all land holdings).

The official added that many studies indicate the positive impact of NREGS in creating sustainable livelihoods. We need to conduct more rigorous studies to quantify impact on income of small and marginal farmers and improvement in agricultural land quality, the official said.

According to empirical studies conducted by the ministry, water conservation work constituted 60% of the total projects undertaken in 2012-13. This has contributed to the increase in availability of water for agricultural purposes.

The share of rural connectivity-related work was 17%. More than 70.5 lakh projects were taken up in 2012-13 (till December 31) under NREGS, which also includes the spillover from the previous year.

Research suggests that water-related assets under NREGS have increased the quantity of water available for irrigation. The increased availability of water has also led to changes in crop patterns and increased area under cultivation, revealed an impact assessment carried out by the ministry.

Said another rural development ministry official: NREGS works have led to a rise in groundwater, improvement in soil quality and reduction in vulnerability of production system to climate variability.

The official added that thanks to the introduction of the scheme, there had been increase in agricultural wages, decline in distress migration and expansion of agricultural land.

The expansion of the scheme was proposed last year by a committee headed by Planning Commission member Mihir Shah. It recommended the inclusion of a large number of projects relating to the agricultural sector such as promotion of system of rice intensification, creation of poultry shelters and fisheries. The committee had also said that NREGS should be linked to asset creation.

In the first phase, NREGS was introduced in 200 of the countrys most backward districts and was expanded to an additional 130 districts from 2007-08. In the subsequent year, the scheme was expanded to all the 600-odd districts.