In a recent letter to the Jairam Ramesh, Thomas had made the proposal, which he said would also help ease the problems of excess foodgrain stocks for the government.
It is now for the rural development ministry to take a call on the issue. If we have already exported more than 4 million tonne of rice last fiscal, we can indeed give subsidised foodgrain to poor families under NREGA, Thomas told FE.
The guidelines for NREGA are in consonance with Thomass proposal. Schedule 2 of NREGA notes, the wages under a scheme may be paid either wholly in cash or in cash and kind provided that at least a fourth of the wages shall be paid in cash only.
At present, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has food stocks (rice and wheat) in excess of 53 mt against buffer stocks and strategic reserve norms of 21 mt.
With the government aiming at record wheat and rice procurement during the current year, the food stocks are expected to rise further in the coming years.
The rationale behind the proposal of the food ministry was that with the mounting procurement and storage cost adding up to the food subsidy bill, the part of payment of NREGA wage could help the government in reducing mounting subsidy. It would also provide additional food security to the poor families, Thomas noted.
In the pre-NREGA regime, foodgrain was provided to the BPL families under the Sampoorna Gramin Rozgar Yojana and the National Food for Work Programme.
Rural development ministry officials say it would be a tough task to give foodgrain in place of wage as this would lead to pilferage of foodgrain. With the rural development ministry initiating a massive financial inclusion programme through payment of wages only through bank accounts, giving foodgrain in place of money would delay the process of cashless wage payment.
More than 10 crore savings bank accounts have been opened with various state-owned banks and post offices for NREGA workers.
More than 80% of the wages that are paid under NREGA are being paid through bank accounts, an official said.
The UPA government is mooting to converge its mega social sector schemes NREGA and proposed National Food Security law for putting a curb on subsidies.