New Delhi, Sept. 28: The Centre today extended its flagship rural job scheme throughout the country two days after Rahul Gandhi had met the Prime Minister to request such a move.
The decision added to speculation that the government was preparing for an impending mid-term election and therefore fast-tracking its pro-poor programmes.
A meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and attended by finance minister P. Chidambaram and rural development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh cleared the proposal.
Raghuvansh, however, played down the Rahul factor by saying the meeting had been fixed sometime ago.
Asked if the credit should go to Rahul, he said: “That is for you to decide. But I believe there is no harm if he (Rahul) supports my ministry’s programme.”
During the budget session of Parliament this year, however, the finance ministry had signalled it was not in a hurry to extend the scheme, which assures 100 days’ employment to each rural household in a financial year.
Raghuvansh’s ministry had proposed to add 223 districts to the first-phase list of 200, but the finance ministry pruned the number to 130, citing a resource crunch.
Now, at one go, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme will come into effect in every one of the country’s 595 rural districts next April.
The Centre is to soon launch several other programmes for the “common man” — a pension scheme for the aged, the Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana (insurance scheme), health insurance for below-poverty-line workers and a national policy for farmers.
Raghuvansh, asked if the decision on the job scheme was taken keeping early elections in mind, evaded a direct reply.
“We had promised this in the national common minimum programme and said that the scheme would be extended to the entire country within five years from the date of notification (September 2005). It could mean any time,” the minister said.
“In the remaining 265 (districts), the scheme will be implemented from April 1, 2008. The intervening time will be required for making necessary preparations for the implementation of the scheme,” he added.
Rahul, appointed Congress general secretary in the latest party shuffle, had met the Prime Minister on Wednesday with 12 party leaders to suggest that the job scheme be implemented across the country.