The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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States blip on Singh's jobs radar
- Riding fears of funds crunch, Prime Minister floats alternative proposal

New Delhi, Oct. 20: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is of the view that state governments will have to be consulted before the employment guarantee scheme is implemented.

Sources close to Singh said he had asked the rural development ministry to confer with state governments before the Centre could consider bringing in a bill to enact the scheme in the winter session of Parliament.

The finance ministry reportedly expressed serious reservations over the draft act presented by the rural development ministry on Monday, saying it would be difficult to make the kind of 'financial commitment' it entailed.

Apart from the estimated Rs 36,000 crore the scheme would cost every year, the Prime Minister's main concern is that a programme like this can 'only be implemented by state governments and at that by panchayati raj institutions'.

'Suppose the Centre allots the money and a state government is not interested in implementing the scheme. What happens' Does the money go down the drain' a source asked.

The Maharashtra model ' under which the scheme covered anyone who offered themselves for work ' was sought to be followed by the Centre. But there is a view that the government should have a 'targeted' approach to cover people in distress ' those unable to earn even one square meal a day in conditions of drought, floods and other natural calamities.

'If otherwise jobs are available in the market, people should be encouraged to go for these. In normal circumstances, if there is a choice between the guarantee scheme and a contract job, people tend to go for the former. The private sector finds itself short of workers,' a source said.

In Maharashtra, the scheme yielded different results depending on the local political and administrative leaderships. 'Hence the importance of taking state governments' views,' the source stressed.

Over the last two days, the Prime Minister has held a series of meetings with ministry and Planning Commission officials on the social sector and infrastructure-related subjects. Apart from the employment guarantee scheme, rural healthcare, the power sector and civil aviation were discussed.

On rural healthcare, Singh believes state governments should be spoken to first. The health ministry has consulted NGOs and academics.

On the power sector, his view is that the 'real challenge was to make the bankrupt state electricity boards viable'. The power ministry was told to speak to trade unions and the Left parties before drawing up a roadmap.

The Congress victory in Arunachal Pradesh and Maharashtra as well as the bypolls has given the Centre, and Singh in particular, the boost needed after a rocky start which saw the BJP stall Parliament repeatedly.

'This is the beginning of a delayed honeymoon. The verdict has given a sense of stability and all questions of how long the government will last have been set to rest,' said a source close to the Prime Minister.

While the BJP will be 'preoccupied with itself', sources said, Singh's relationship with his cabinet colleagues has 'reached an even keel'.

'He is comfortable with the senior ministers, Pranab Mukherjee, Shivraj Patil, Sharad Pawar, K. Natwar Singh and Laloo Prasad Yadav. There's a distinct sense of ease,' a source said.

This is the reason a 'major' cabinet shake-up appears unlikely. Sources scotched speculation that Patil was on his way out as home minister and either Mukherjee or Pawar were on the way in.

'There will be no major change on top, only reallocation of portfolios at the middle and junior levels,' a source said.

In an attempt to bring the government and the Congress closer, Singh plans to interact with senior functionaries regularly. To begin with, he met general secretaries Ambika Soni and Ahmed Patel over lunch last Sunday. Next week, he proposes to have the party's media cell members over.

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