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Employment act sows fresh seeds of discontent

New Delhi, Dec. 7: The National Employment Guarantee Act could spark fresh heartburn between the ruling United Progressive Alliance and its Left allies.

The Left says the UPA is reneging on its commitment to introduce the employment guarantee act that seeks to provide at least 100 days of employment a year to one able-bodied person in every rural household.

The ministry of rural development has ignored the basic provisions of the draft prepared by the National Advisory Council and has instead come up with a 'diluted' draft bill that weakens the objective behind the bill.

'The employment guarantee act was not in the Left manifesto. It was part of the Congress manifesto. It is their commitment and they should fulfil it,' CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury said at a joint news conference with advisory council members.

Left parties, council members and former Prime Minister V.P. Singh have begun lobbying the government not to dilute the act which the Left claims could 'change the face' of rural India.

Senior CPI leader D. Raja met Manmohan Singh this morning to express the Left's unhappiness with the draft bill. The Prime Minister said the bill would be introduced in Parliament on December 15.

'I have told the Prime Minister there is a lot of scope for enriching the bill,' Raja said. But it is not clear if the ministry will change the basic provisions of the draft bill.

Joining in the attempt to restore the act to its original form, V.P. Singh met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and rural development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and told them of the Left's concerns.

The Left leaders did not name finance minister P Chidambaram but seemed to suggest he was the stumbling block ' they said 'some ministers' in the Manmohan Singh government were not following the coalition dharma. But it is being speculated that it is the finance ministry and Planning Commission that are putting a spoke in the wheel.

'I do not want to name individuals. But the Centre will have to generate resources. If there is a financial bottleneck the Centre will have to sort it out,' Yechury said.

The Left wants the Centre to fund the whole scheme and the latter, at least in the communists' view, wants to pass the buck to the states. 'The states are in no condition to bear the burden,' Yechury said. The draft does not talk about a fully centrally-funded employment guarantee scheme.

The draft bill backtracks on important areas like providing a timeframe for implementing the bill. It virtually restricts the scope of beneficiaries from 'one able-bodied person' in every rural household to 'one person in below poverty line families'.

'The act also lacks crucial provisions like ensuring that at least 40 per cent of workers employed in a particular block are women. It does not talk about involving the panchayati raj institutions in monitoring the implementation of the programme,' Delhi School of Economics' Jean Dereze, also an advisory council member, said.

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