Rural Issues
Officials from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have denied making any request to allow the use of machines in the rural employment scheme.

Alarm bells went off among state government officials in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka overseeing National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) implementation when reports claimed that the Centre was willing to allow the use of machines in the rural employment scheme. The report that came out on Thursday claimed that three states had sent proposals in October to the Centre to allow the use of machines were under “active consideration”. Those working closely with the rural employment scheme in Andhra Pradesh say if machines are allowed, it would wreck the livelihoods of those who depend on the scheme.

However, Panchayath Raj department officials from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have denied that any such proposal was made to the Centre by them. Furthermore, a Union Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) official speaking to TNM also denied having received such a proposal from the states or even considering allowing the use of machines for works under NREGS.

Report quoting unnamed official

A report that first appeared in the Hindustan Times on October 30 claimed that Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka had written to the Ministry of Rural Department seeking relaxation in rules to allow the use of machines for executing projects in difficult terrain. The report quoted an unnamed official, who said, “The states feel that a limited exemption of use of heavy machines or bulldozers in such difficult terrain can actually help the scheme and also meet construction targets.”

The official cited in the report had said that the proposal if accepted, would be done through executive orders and not through an amendment to the NREGA Act in Parliament. Under NREGS, works executed by the programme implementation agencies shall be performed only by using manual labour and no labour displacing machines can be used.

On November 7, another report appeared in the Hindustan Times citing two unnamed officials as saying that the Centre was “actively considering” the proposal sent by the three states. The officials told the newspaper that even if machines were allowed for certain work under the scheme the wages of workers would not be affected.

“We have received the proposals. We are actively considering proposals to allow machines in a very limited way in NREGS,” a senior rural development ministry official told HT on Wednesday.

No proposal sent, no proposal received

However, speaking to TNM the Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj department Additional Commissioner for NREGA, Balasubramaniyam said, “We have not sent the Centre any such proposal, the report is false. Any use of machines that are in the scheme requires an amendment to the NREGA Act,”.

The Karnataka Panchayath Raj department Joint Director (Technical) for NREGA, VM Mahesh also denied the state had sent any such proposal that would affect NREGA workers, “We do use machines such as road rollers or compressors for building roads, but any other machines that will displace workers would require a request that comes from the block level and only after reviewing the need of it, is permission granted. ”

Amarjeet Sinha, Secretary, Union MoRD told TNM that no such proposals were received from any state by the Centre either, “We will not be taking any measures that would impact the poorest in the country who depend on NREGA for a livelihood. Some states (such as Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh) where the market rates are high we have received complaints from the state that there have been instances where machines were used and fake rosters of workers were sent for approval. There are no plans to allow machines for use in NREGA,”

Madhya Pradesh NREGA commissioner's office was unavailable for a comment

Those working for the better implementation of the NREGA scheme in Andhra Pradesh say if the state or the Centre allows the use of machines it would severely affect the livelihood of tribal communities in the Eastern Ghats where the terrain is rocky, “Such a move would pave the way for the contractors to make their way into works under NREGS. During summer the particularly vulnerable tribal groups, they rely a lot on NREGS for their sustenance and survival, allowing machines would deprive them of a livelihood,” said Chakradhar Buddha, program manager, with Libtech India, a group of team of engineers, social workers and social scientists working with tribals in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

“We have been demanding for years that the Eastern Ghats areas should be by default be declared as rocky soil, the state government has always denied as they look at work allotment on a case by case basis. Thus only 5% work gets allotted under this category, this results in a lot of workers not getting the work and wages they deserve,” he pointed out, adding that if machines are allowed for the work, it would only benefit the contractors and the big farmers who want to retain the NREGS workers as agricultural labourers in their farms.

Both Andhra state government and the MoRD told TNM that they would be sending rejoinders to Hindustan Times for factual inaccuracy over the two reports.