Utilise NREGA funds for snow clearance

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
From last several years I have been urging upon authorities to utilize funds available under Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Scheme (MG-NREGS) also called NREGA for snow clearance in rural areas. This would serve two purposes a) Snow clearance can be undertaken at an appropriate time in remote / hilly areas of state b) the activity will generate livelihood for rural youth at a time when then they are sitting idle at home during winter months. The recent snowfall in Kashmir valley and parts of Chenab and Pir Panchal region in Jammu has ended a long dry spell in the state. People in Kashmir valley are overwhelmed over the fresh snowfall that has taken place at an appropriate time ie when the 40 day long Chila-e-Kalan had just entered the 15th day . Social media is flooded with pictures and videos of fresh snowfall. The snowfall is seen as a good omen by people but at the same time it brings lot of miseries to people especially when there is frequent breakdown of electricity and shortage of water-supply. In addition to it snow clearance on the roads is also a big challenge for authorities due to dearth of machinery support.
Initiative in Uttrakhand
During 2014 snowfall I wrote a piece in Srinagar based English daily suggesting utilization of MG NREGA funds for removal of snow from village roads, lanes and other public places. Government did not pay any attention towards my suggestion as I tried to persuade several top officials of Rural Development Department (RDD). Their argument was that NREGS demands creation of physical assets which is not possible during removal of snow from roads, lanes and public places ? For some time I could not counter this narrative. Some years back I went through an article published in Hindustan Times titled “Snow clearance undertaken under NREGA in Uttrakhand “. I was astonished to know that instead of deploying heavy machines , the district administration of Kinnaur in Uttrakhand state had employed villagers of the district for clearing snow from paths and roads under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGA).
We all know that during winter especially in snowfall, the developmental works come to a halt in hilly states like J&K , Himachal and Uttrakhand. This, leaves most of the rural labourers jobless for months together. Keeping this in mind, the District Administration of Kinnaur had suggested to State Government, asking if the job of clearing snow could be carried out under MGNREGA ? To this, the Department of Rural Development, Government of Uttrakhand said since the road construction and clearing of debris came under essential activity, clearing the snow from roads could be undertaken under the scheme. The Uttrakhand Government finally accorded its consent to allot snow-clearance works under MNREGA. On the other hand, in J&K state which witnesses much heavy snowfall than Uttrakhand , not a single snow clearance activity has been undertaken under this scheme. Infact former Rural Development Minister Abdul Haq Khan had several meetings with Union Rural Development Ministry, but till date there has been no formal nod to the proposal mooted by J&K Government.
SLWM and convergence of NREGS funds :
Under Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen NREGA funds can be utilized for Solid and Liquid Waste Management. When this can be done why cannot authorities utilize the funds for snow clearance ? During Solid Liquid Waste Management (SLWM) in villages not much of the physical assets are created except when the implementing agency constructs compost pits etc or purchases some machines. But construction of compost pits is only one of the activities under SLWM. Activities like segregation of bio degradable and non bio degradable waste, cleaning water-bodies , springs and village streams hardly involves any physical asset creation ? For all these works NREGS funds are allowed to be used by Govt of India under SBM Grameen but when it comes to snow clearance officials say NREGS funds cannot be utilized ?
Guideline number 5.10.5 of Swatch Bharat Mission (SBM Grameen) says that for Solid Liquid Waste Management (SLWM) funding earmarked under MG-NREGS can be utilized well in addition to other funds. The said guideline reads :
“SLWM projects can be made financiallyviable by dovetailing funds from other programmes and sources of funding like MNREGS, MP-LAD, MLA-LAD funds (CDF), Finance Commission funds, CSR contribution,Swachh Bharat Kosh, donor funding etc. Funding from programmes of other Ministries and departments may also be converged”.
Snow clearance in J&K
Snow clearance work in our state is usually being undertaken by Mechanical Engineering Department and PWD (R&B). These Government organizations are not able to undertake the work within a specified time and the result is public outcry , chaos and confusion. It is advisable that department of Rural Development be involved in snow clearance work in Rural areas where snow clearance vehicles usually reach after a long wait. Department of Rural Development can engage local residents to clear the roads in villages as this was done many decades back. This will not only make remote roads motorable and clear from snow but will also generate jobs for the villagers who usually have no jobs in the winter months. This is the very essence of MG-NREGS ie “Employment Guarantee ” for jobless people.
Conclusion :
J&K Government has sent several proposals to Government of India for utilizing MG-NREGS (NREGA) funds for snow clearance work, but the proposal was rejected by the Union Ministry for Rural Development on the same plea that snow clearance work involves no asset creation. When the same Ministry in 2014 has allowed use of MG-NREGS funds for Solid Liquid Waste Management under Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen (SBM-Grameen) which also involves almost no asset creation, why not include snow clearance work under NREGA guidelines ?When Government of Uttrakhand can allow snow clearance work in Kinnaur district , why cannot this be done in J&K ? Isn’t timely snow clearance an asset ? Isn’t creating livelihoods in harsh winter months an asset ? It is presumed that there would be bungling and corruption if the snow clearance is undertaken under NREGA .The corruption and bungling is not only prerogative of NREGA because Mechanical Engineering and PWD (R&B) officials also prepare fake bills after snow melts from roads. It is better to video-graph all the snow clearance works and local residents, volunteers and civil society organizations can play a great role in this regard. To clear village roads, link roads and lanes in villages from snow , MG-NREGS fund dovetailing is the only viable option. I appeal authorities to give a serious thought to my suggestions…
(The author is Founder and Chairman of Jammu Kashmir RTI Movement)