New Delhi: The ministry of rural development is looking to relax its norms so as to be able to extend assistance to the poor segments of the population who are not at present officially classified as living below the poverty line (BPL).

It is going to do so by linking eligibility for the only Centrally sponsored scheme investing in skill development of the BPL population to the government’s marquee rural development initiative under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, or NREGA, according to a senior official in the ministry of rural development who did not want to be identified.

NREGA promises 100 days of manual work every year to each rural household, when demanded.

The proposal states that those households in which at least two members have worked under NREGA for more than 50 days for two consecutive years will be considered on a par with BPL and one member of that family will be given training for self-employment under the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY).

Improving prospects: Villagers working on an NREGA project in Kalahandi, Orissa. The scheme involves only manual, unskilled labour. Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

At present, SGSY is targeted only at BPL families while NREGA is meant for all rural households. “It is being considered to link NREGA and SGSY. Though it is still in the initial stages, the minister (for rural development C.P. Joshi) seems keen on it. The criteria of those families who have worked for more than 50 days for two years has been chosen since that indicates the family is in distress and does not have a stable alternative source of employment," said the official quoted above.

Another ministry official independently confirmed there was such a proposal in consideration but wanted to remain anonymous.

The objective of SGSY is to help bring the rural poor above the poverty line by ensuring a sustained level of income over a period of time.

Under the scheme, the rural poor are organized into self-help groups through the process of social mobilization; their training, capacity-building and provision of income-generating assets is taken care of by the government. SGSY is sponsored both by the Union and state governments with a funding ratio of 75:25.

Since NREGA provides only manual work which requires unskilled labour, it is believed that by training some of the NREGA workers under SGSY, they can be equipped for semi-skilled work.

“SGSY has several benefits and we have been seeing how the people trained under it are getting good jobs also. By linking it with NREGA, workers under this scheme can also benefit from such training," said the official quoted first.

Experts believe such linkages could have both positive and negative aspects.

“It is definitely an innovative way of identifying even those who are not in the BPL list and training them under SGSY (for semi-skilled work). It is also an interesting idea to take NREGA beyond the sphere of just physical asset creation," said Yamini Aiyar, senior research fellow and director of the accountability initiative, Centre for Policy Research. “The downside of this, however, is that it undermines the basic mandate of NREGA which is to allow local bodies to determine what kind of asset creation should take place locally. However, with linking two schemes, this might change and the decision-making could shift to the state or district administration."

So far, NREGA has provided employment to 50.6 million households, generating 2.63 billion person days. Women constitute nearly half of the beneficiaries. It received an allocation of Rs40,100 crore in the Union Budget for 2010-11.