Job scheme for poor faces hurdles

New Delhi, February 5:

India is billing its new jobs scheme that promises every rural family 100 days of work a year as a landmark in its battle against poverty but economists say it faces big hurdles. Chief among them are widespread corruption and the country’s poor track record in governance.

There are also concerns that the programme, expected to cost at least nine billion dollars a year, will fuel India’s already hefty deficit. “One is not sure how much of the allocated funds will land up reaching the targeted segments,” said Rajiv Malik, economist at JP Morgan in Singapore, “In terms of the past anti-poverty schemes, there were a lot of fictitious names on rolls whereby the money simply disappeared.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched the plan last week in the dusty village of Bandlapally in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, saying its aim was to remove “poverty from the face of our nation.”

“This will be a landmark in our history,” he said, calling the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act the biggest achievement of his government. Under the plan, one member of every rural household will get 100 days of work a year in such areas as water conservation, irrigation, flood prevention, road construction, forestry and wasteland development. If no work is available, they will receive unemployment payments. The scheme is initially being rolled out in one-third of India’s 600 districts.