NEW DELHI :
Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Friday urged states to scale up programmes like the rural jobs guarantee scheme and housing for the poor besides the rural roads programme to boost jobs and the creation of infrastructure in the far flung parts of the country.
This comes in the wake of a lockdown in the country to arrest the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic though some programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) have been allowed to start this week albeit with adherence to the strict rules of social distancing.
Speaking to state rural development ministers via video link, Tomar urged the state governments to take advantage of the relaxation of lockdown norms announced by the home ministry in areas not affected by covid-19.
“The Minister emphasised that although the challenge posed by the spread of COVID-19 epidemic is very serious, but this challenge must be perceived as an opportunity by all States and union territories to develop and strengthen rural infrastructure, create employment opportunities in rural areas and facilitate diversification of rural livelihoods,” a government statement said.
This comes against the backdrop of a huge migration of people – from urban to rural areas – from the start of the lockdown on 25 March. Hundreds of thousands of people have returned to their villages given that economic activity is at a standstill due to the lockdown. Some industries and economic activities have been started but news reports say the number of people registering for jobs under the rural employment guarantee scheme has shot up in states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh – revealing a spike in rural distress.
Tomar told state rural development ministers said his ministry “has sanctioned Rs. 33,300 crore under MGNREGS out of which Rs. 20,225 crore has been released to liquidate all outstanding dues of previous years towards wages and materials,” the statement said.
“The sanctioned amount is sufficient to meet expenses under MGNREGA till June 2020. The Minister assured the States and union territories that adequate financial resources are available for rural development programmes,” the statement said. The minister said that “under MGNREGS, the focus should be on water conservation, water recharge and irrigation work,” the statement said.
Under the rural roads programme, “the focus should on quick award of tenders in sanctioned road projects and starting pending road projects. The contractors, suppliers, workers etc should be galvanised to quick start the works,” the minister was quoted as saying by the statement.
The minister also appreciated the fact that women self help groups were making protective face covers, sanitizers, soaps and were also running community kitchens to feed those in transit and others in need, it added.