IT has been more than a year since Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha) Mr Mohammad Akbar Lone, representing Baramulla parliamentary constituency, wrote to the Union Rural Development Minister requesting for the inclusion of snow clearance work under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MG-NREGA). Mr Lone had written a detailed letter to the Union Minister Giriraj Singh on January 10th last year requesting him to allow MG-NREGA funds to be utilized for snow clearance work in rural areas of not only in Jammu & Kashmir but also Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh.
In his letter, the MP Mohammad Akbar Lone had told the Union Minister that during winter months, the developmental work comes to a halt for 3 to 4 months in snow bound states and UTs which affects the routine work execution under MGNREGA. As a result, employment is not guaranteed to NREGA workers for many months between December to March especially.
Taking these things into consideration, Mohammad Akbar Lone had suggested that people in state’s where there is significant amounts of snowfall, be allowed to earn livelihood by taking up snow clearance works in rural areas under MG-NREGA. Even after advocacy around this issue for several years, nothing is being done by the J&K government.
JCB Cranes damage roads
In J&K, the rural link roads and lanes are not cleared for several days after snowfall. It is routine for the government to then hire mechanised Cranes (JCBs) to clear the snow from roads. This damages the road surface as JCBs are not meant for snow clearance but for clay and other excavation work. In many rural areas, where fresh blacktopping is done in summer through early autumn, the bitumen layers are damaged by JCB cranes during snow clearance especially in upper reaches where there is enough snowfall and minus temperature makes the snow very hard.
The majority of the JCB cranes hardly use attachments like board blades to clear snow from road surfaces. The PWD (R&B) department has also failed to make this mandatory while hiring the services of the JCB Crane owners during snowfall. This should be taken into consideration in future.
If we are not able to use mechanised snow cutting machines at least JCB cranes which undertake snow clearance work should use broad blades for snow clearance rather than using the machine buckets with sharp nails attached to them.
Why MG-NREGA for snow clearance ?
Last year, in January, I along with some colleagues had a meeting with MP Mohammad Akbar Lone and gave him factual details about snow clearance work and MG-NREGA. During the meeting, we apprised MP about the fact that bringing the execution of snow clearance work within the purview of MG-NREGA scheme will not only help Government agencies clear snow from rural link roads without any hitches but will also serve the paramount purpose of the scheme by providing the means of earning of livelihood to locals. This would infact be in absolute adherence with the Preamble of the MGNREGA , which is focussed on employment generation (Rozgar Guarantee).
Additionally, by employing local youth in winters, especially during snowfall, we can protect the metallic and macadamised roads from damage caused due to the machines like JCB cranes which are used by Govt in many rural areas of Kashmir especially as there is dearth of professional snow clearance machines. There are many areas in the Kashmir valley, Ladakh or even in places like Lahaul and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh where snow clearance machines can’t reach and employing local people to do this work manually under MG-NREGA would be a great endeavour and also this will give them livelihood at a time when they are jobless.
Attempts made in past
J&K Rural Development Department claims that snow clearance work from link roads, lanes and public spaces does not lead to creation of physical assets and thus MG- NREGA funds can’t be utilized for this work. These are the guidelines provided by Govt of India and states/UTs follow the same.
Some years back, the District Magistrate in Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh had set a precedent and made the case for snow clearance to be included under the MG- NREGA. Infact, during PDP-BJP Govt, an attempt was made by the then Rural Development Minister Abdul Haq Khan in June 2017 to impress upon Govt of India to utilize MG-NREGA funds for snow clearance work but the winter of 2017-2018 no snow clearance work was taken up under MG-NREGA.
Timely snow clearance in rural areas especially remote and inaccessible areas of Kupwara, Kishtwar, Baramulla, Bandipora, Shopian or Kulgam is not possible unless the Government does not involve the local Panchayats who can use MG-NREGA funds. For this, a green signal has to come from the Government of India.
Using MG-NREGA funding for snow clearance work will serve three purposes which is more important that physical asset creation:
1) Snow clearance can be undertaken at an appropriate time in remote areas of hill states and UT’s receiving snowfall.
2) This work will generate livelihood for rural youth within their village especially at a time when they have no work during winter months.
3) Blacktopped roads won’t be damaged by JCB cranes
Under Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (SBM-G) MG-NREGA funds are allowed to be utilized for Solid and Liquid Waste Management by dovetailing the both. If this convergence is possible why can authorities not utilize MG-NREGA funds for snow clearance work?
During execution of Solid Liquid Waste Management (SLWM) in rural areas not much of the physical assets are created but still SBM Gramin allows using MG-NREGA funds for it.
Under the convergence model, plantation of trees and several other activities are allowed to be taken up under MG-NREGA. Infact, J&K Chief Secretary Dr A K Mehta is also a great proponent of convergence of various Govt programmes with MG-NREGA. The Forest Department last year undertook a plantation drive with the Rural Development Department through local panchayats. Why can’t we do this in case of snow clearance?
In view of different geography and climatic conditions in places like Uttarakhand,Himachal, Arunachal or J&K, Govt of India should have allowed using MG-NGREGA funds for snow clearance work.
States and Union territories must be given autonomy in choosing how to utilize the NREGA funds. Moreover, in order to avoid using JCB Cranes, Panchayats should utilise PRI grants to procure small cutting machines like special tractors fitted with broad blades to be used for snow clearance work. Three to four panchayats can pool funds for procuring these machines. Similarly, in urban areas, ULBs can pool grants allocated to corporators & municipal councillors.
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