The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Job bill set for debut after haggling

New Delhi, Aug. 17: The rural employment bill will finally see the light of day.

After several rounds of discussions with its Left allies, the government today cleared the bill that promises employment for 100 days to one person in every rural household.

The national rural employment guarantee bill will be tabled in the Lok Sabha tomorrow. To begin with, the scheme will be implemented in 200 districts across the country.

The final clearance came after the Left and the Centre haggled over several provisions like the minimum wage, priority for women applicants and timely flow of funds from the government.

CPM politburo member Brinda Karat sprang a surprise at the parliamentary co-ordination committee meeting this morning when she suggested that the scheme reserve one-third of the jobs for women.

Union rural development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was taken back as were some Left MPs.

Karat maintained it would send the “right” message to the people. But the government was not convinced.

It took two more rounds of talks in the evening to clear the confusion. The government held its ground and refused to give in. Instead, it said the scheme would give priority to women as a blanket one-third reservation would be difficult to implement.

The Left also insisted that minimum daily wages must not be less than Rs 60. The government did not want to tie itself down to a fixed rate but finally agreed to the Left’s demand.

Another point of contention was timely release of funds to the states.

“The creation of jobs depends entirely on the timely release of funds,” said CPM MP Nilotpal Basu. If the scheme is held up because of lack of funds, then state governments have to provide unemployment doles to the people who have been registered for employment.

“This will be a huge burden for state governments,” he added.

The Left wanted the Centre to release the funds in the first two months of a financial year. The government argued for three, and won this round.

Government sources said a plan like the rural employment guarantee scheme was easier to implement than a self-employment programme.

“In a self-employment scheme, the chances of the government machinery taking away the benefits are very high. If the cost of a project is, say, Rs 3,000 and the loan amount Rs 1,000, the beneficiary will be lucky to get Rs 300. The rest will be siphoned off by pradhans, block development officers and bank managers,” the sources said.

“In an employment scheme, the quantum of labour and the labour costs can be measured accurately,” they added.

CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta described the scheme as a “new beginning in free India”.

“No government has codified the right to work.' We collectively agreed to give definite relief,” the CPI leader added.

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