Union Rural Development Minister Birender Singh, who assumed office, indicated that the rural employment guarantee act would continue in the entire country and not just in some districts as it has benefitted the poor.
A former Congressman, Birender Singh said there was no doubt that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act had benefited the poor, and the Rs.40,000 crore allocation for the rural job scheme was not for any specific region.
“Some people had never seen a Rs.500 note in their lifetime in this country. The MGNREGA has managed to reach out to them,” he told media after taking charge as minister for rural development, panchayati raj and drinking water and sanitation.
His predecessor Nitin Gadkari had planned to restrict the rural job scheme to the most backward 200 districts of the country.
Gadkari had said that the MGNREGA guaranteeing up to 100 days of unskilled work in a year to every rural household was not required in areas having higher growth.
The remarks had drawn protests from economists and activists who said it would affect the poor of the country.
Birender Singh, however, acknowledged that there were some problems in implementation of the scheme and said the current government would try to correct them.
He said valuable suggestions have come regarding reforming the rural job scheme and all necessary steps will be taken to strike a right balance between creation of jobs and building durable assets through MGNREGA.
The minister said, if the need arises some new works will also be added to the scheme.
On the issue of impending changes in the Land Acquisition Act, Birender Singh said that efforts will be made to bring about a consensus in the matter.
The minister said the government is not against industrialization but the interests of the farmers should not be compromised at any cost. He also added that he was not in favour of acquisition of multi-crop lands.
Asked to comment whether amendments in the land act will be made in the coming winter session of parliament, he replied that he will study the issue first and then will formulate his opinion in a couple of days.
Referring to the Swachh Bharat Mission, a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Birendra Singh said building toilets in the rural areas will be taken up on a war footing and a massive awareness campaign will be launched for behavioral change as far as sanitation and cleanliness are concerned.
He also underlined that the problem of drinking water mainly in the arsenic and fluoride affected regions will be addressed on a priority basis.