'NREGP can redevelop small farmers' land productivity'

'NREGP can redevelop small farmers' land productivity'

Dr Shah, who was in Chennai to deliver a special lecture at the Madras Institute of Development Studies to honour its founder, the late eminent economist Dr Malcolm S Adiseshiah, spoke to M R Venkatesh of Deccan Herald on some major decisions the Plan Panel has taken recently. Excerpts:

You said the Mid-Term Appraisal (MTA) of the 11th Plan has just been completed. What are the areas that need urgent attention and correction?
One of the major areas we are focusing on is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP) renamed after Mahatma Gandhi, because you know it is the single largest allocation of financial resources that the Government of India (GoI) is making in any programme. But in our view the potential of this programme is far from being realised. And a major series of reforms has to be initiated which has been outlined in the MTA. They are in consultation with the ministry of rural development and the states, so that we are bringing all the players on board. Because, you know the states are finally the major actors and what we find is that the six per cent that has been allotted to administrative costs is not being used properly. This should really be seen as professional support costs which should make the quality of the assets created under this programme improve dramatically. It should not be seen just as a cash transfer programme. Lots of people are arguing in favour of cash transfers rather than NREGP. So if NREGP is to be protected we need to ensure that qualitatively new kind of assets, water and livelihood security is created on the basis of the NREGP.

But farmers in different states are complaining they are not getting labour for agriculture as fallout of NREGP?
See, what we have done to take care of that concern is to actually widen the ambit of people who are entitled under the NREGP. For example, small and marginal farmers, we have now allowed as a major reform in this new government, to actually allow the NREGP work to happen on the lands of small and marginal farmers. And as you know, the majority of people working under NREGP are actually small and marginal farmers who are forced to work to labour outside their lands because the productivity of their own lands has become so poor. So NREGP money can be used to redevelop the productivity of the lands of small and marginal farmers. Then we could resolve the conflict that agriculture or farming is facing vis-à-vis NREGP.

You mentioned about inter-linking of rivers being catastrophic. Could you throw some light on that please?
Yes, I must tell you that the MTA has taken a clear view on this issue. See, one of the major things that we are concerned is that the monsoon cycle itself can be jeopardised, if the inter-linking of rivers project is actually implemented the way it is visualised. Because, finally, the monsoon cycle arises from the Bay of Bengal’s low salinity layer which leads to high temperature and low pressure. Why does the low salinity layer arise? Because the fresh water of the rivers enter the sea. Now, if you are going to dam all the rivers and the fresh waters do not reach the sea at all, the salinity levels in the Bay of Bengal will actually go up. This in turn will not lead to the rise of high temperature and the low pressure zone being created over the Bay of Bengal. Thus, apart from posing a threat to fragile coastal eco-systems as damming rivers would cut down sediment supply, the rivers linking plan could threaten the very integrity of the monsoon system.
Is the Plan Panel considering the Suresh Tendulkar report on ‘Poverty Estimates’ so that the new ‘Food Security Bill’ could move ahead?

We have taken a view. We have accepted the Tendulkar Committee report in toto.
Accepted only for the purpose of the Food Security Bill?
No! No! This is an estimate of poverty. For the Bill, the GoI has to take a position on what they want to give as entitlements to people under the Food Security Act. That is a very different question. We set up the Tendulkar Committee which has determined the number of poor people in each state of this country. Now it is up to the GoI whether it wants to use this as a basis or something beyond this as a basis for providing entitlements under the Act. But the Planning Commission had to basically give the numbers of the poor people which it has done. This will be (henceforth) the official poverty line.

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