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Job bill a step away from House

New Delhi, Dec. 13: The decks have been cleared for the introduction of the employment guarantee scheme bill in the ongoing Parliament session despite objections from the Left and some members of the National Advisory Council.

The cabinet is expected to give its nod at its next meeting on Wednesday, after which the bill will be introduced in Parliament.

Given the points raised by the Left and its allegation that certain provisions of the draft legislation, prepared by the advisory council, had been diluted by the government, official sources said the bill is most likely to be sent to a standing committee.

In its present form, the bill will cover 150 select districts and guarantee 100 days of wage employment a year to every household with an adult member volunteering unskilled manual work. It will entail an outlay of Rs 10,000 crore, which is Rs 30,000 crore less than the initial projected cost.

The bill will target those living below the poverty line, the reason why a state like Kerala is not too enthusiastic about the scheme.

The Left has expressed reservation about a targeted scheme, saying that identification of the poor was 'unsatisfactory' both in terms of criteria and procedure and that the problem of wrong exclusion was rampant.

It advocated a scheme that would be 'universal and self-targeted, if not for all rural adults willing to work, then at least for all rural households', in keeping with the spirit of the UPA's common minimum programme.

The Left was also against the Centre's notification of areas and time span for the scheme to be operational, saying that this eroded its ability to act as a legal right and guarantee for all rural households. However, government sources clarified that once notified, the districts to be covered under the act would remain irreversible and there was no question of 'rotating' the districts.

Depending on the financial viability and the efficacy of the bill, more districts would be brought under its ambit later, the sources said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had taken a keen interest in bringing the bill in this session itself, said sources close to him. Last week, he spent two days conferring with officials and advisory council members before the fine print was readied. The sources said that for Singh, the passage of the legislation endorsed his belief that economic growth is 'broad-based' and the discourse is not so much about 'India Shining as India Sharing'.

'He is clear that the focus should be as much on education, employment and health as attracting foreign investments and stepping up infrastructure development,' a source said.

Achieving 100 per cent rural electrification by the end of the Tenth Five Year Plan tops the UPA's priority list. The government is thinking of enhancing the subsidy for rural electrification from 40 per cent to 90. Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh have the highest number of villages without power connections. The cost of the project has been estimated at Rs 6,000 crore.

The government also aims to set up one hospital for every one lakh people under the National Rural Health Mission. It wants to extend the rural health network beyond primary health centres to see that every village has one such centre.

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