New Delhi: Social activists opposing the NDA government's move to reform MNREGA have said that the scheme has in fact helped revive the agriculture sector of the country.
Citing a new study conducted by a Mumbai-based research institute they said that a majority of the works undertaken, around 79 per cent, explicitly supports agricultural activities, via land levelling, horticulture and water conservation and harvesting works on public lands.
"The remaining works include roads and afforestation, some of which implicitly support agriculture as well. In the context of critiques of the MNREGA, it is apparent that Maharashtra's MNREGA is supportive of agriculture," says the study 'MNREGA Works and their Impacts: A Rapid Assessment in Maharashtra' conducted by Mumbai-based Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGDR).
Nikhil Dey, who is an associate of social activist Aruna Roy, said the new IGDR study on MNREGA is an eye opener for all those who are trying to weaken the pro-poor programme.
"The study has shown that agriculture sector of a state like Maharashtra has immensely benefited because of effective implementation of MNREGA," Dey told PTI.
The study has been sent to the Centre and the Maharashtra government for assessment.
Government, however, countered the argument citing another study on MNREGA done by an economist from University of Michigan which questioned the existence of such a scheme, at least in its current form.
According the government, an empirical study 'Why Guarantee Employment? Evidence from a Large Indian Public-Works Program' by Laura Zimmermann of University of Michigan has established that the overall direct effects of MNREGA on the labor market are small.
"The results suggest that the overall direct effects on the labor market are small," the study said.
"Given the large size of a programme like MNREGA with expenditures of about one per cent of Indian GDP, the results raise the question whether the provided welfare benefits are large enough to warrant the existence of such an ambitious scheme, at least in its current form, or whether the money would be more effectively spent on other anti-poverty measures," the study has said.
Interestingly, the social activists opposing MNREGA came up with the new IGDR study two days after the government dug out a separate study by the same institute to reveal how MNREGA was used by Congress as "a partisan tool to garner votes" in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.
Despite objections from various quarters, the government has said that it is determined to go ahead with its plan to undertake a "thorough review" of UPA regime's flagship programme, arguing that it has been "allowed to be exploited for pure partisan purposes."
The government's assertion came against the backdrop of objections by Left parties, former Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh and some leading economists to any "dilution" of the MNREGA programme which came into force through an act of Parliament in 2005.