*V. Mohan Rao
Being the nodal Ministry for most of the development and welfare activities in the rural areas, the Ministry of Rural Development plays a pivotal role in the overall development strategy of the country. The vision and mission of the Ministry is sustainable and inclusive growth of rural India through a multipronged strategy for eradication of poverty by increasing livelihood opportunities, providing social safety net and developing infrastructure for growth. This is expected to improve quality of life in rural India and to correct the developmental imbalances, aiming in the process, to reach out to most disadvantaged sections of the society.
Rural development implies both the economic betterment of people as well as greater social transformation. Increased participation of people in the rural development programmes, decentralization of planning, better enforcement of land reforms and greater access to credit are envisaged for providing the rural people with better prospects.
Initially, main thrust for development was laid on agriculture, industry, communication, education, health and allied sectors. Later on, realizing that accelerated development can be provided only if governmental efforts are adequately supplemented by direct and indirect involvement of people at the grass root level, the thrust shifted.
And the thrust is more visible in this year’s budget, where Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced that the total allocation for rural, agricultural and allied sectors for 2017-18 is a record Rs 1,87,223 crore, which is 24% higher from what was allocated last year. Experts feel that this was also necessitated due to rising rural distress after back-to-back droughts. The Narendra Modi-led Government is laying considerable emphasis on and touching new milestones in its programmes and policies for the all round development of the people and the rural development is one of the key focus areas for transformation of the society.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is one of such programmes. It aims at enhancing livelihood security of households in rural areas of the country by providing not less than one hundred days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. The financial year 2016-17 witnessed an unprecedented governance transformation in MGNREGS with a sustained thrust on water conservation. With over 82% active workers (9.1 crore) with Aadhaar seeding in NREGASoft, 4.6 crore workers on AadhaarBased Payment Bridge, electronic payment of 96% wages through Bank/Post Office accounts,more than 89 lakh assets geo tagged so far, 93 lakh jobcards deleted so far through proper verification, large scale drought proofing water conservation works in rainfall deficient regions, MGNREGS established itself as a well governed programme creating durable assets for livelihood security in poor regions, while providing employment on demand.
For the first time, deprivation levels of States were taken into account while approving Labour Budget. The April to July period in the financial year2016-17 witnessed an unprecedented demand for work on account of the continued drought. Thereafter, on account of a good monsoon in over 75% districts, the demand remained concentrated in drought affected regions like Karnataka. December onwards, as happens every year, demand for work again rose. MGNREGS achieved 230 crore person days which is higher than the revised labour budget. The total provisional expenditure of Rs. 58,056Crore (Central plus State) is the highest ever in MGNREGS in any year. 56% women in the wage employment generated is also the highest ever.
Moving on from job generation to rural connectivity, a record 47,350 kms. of rural road was constructed during 2016-17 under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). This is the highest construction of PMGSY roads in a single year, in the last 7 years. During the period 2011-14, the average rate of construction of PMGSY roads was 73 kms. per day, which increased to 100 km per day during 2014-15 and 2015-16. For the year 2016-17, a record of 130 kms. per day has been achieved, which is the highest average annual construction rate, in the last 7 years.
With a view to reduce the “carbon footprint” of rural roads, reduce environmental pollution, increase the working season and bring cost effectiveness, PMGSY is aggressively encouraging use of “Green Technologies” and non-conventional materials like waste plastic, cold mix, geo-textiles, fly-ash, iron and copper slag etc. in rural roads. 4,113.13 kms of PMGSY roads were constructed using “Green” technologies, in 2016-17. This is substantially higher than 2,634.02 kms achieved during 2014-2016 and 806.93kms achieved during 2000-2014.
Similarly to address the shelter needs of the rural poor, Prime Minister launched the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana-Gramin (PMAY-G) on November 20, 2016. The new Rural Housing programme is designed to meet the needs and aspirations of households. With a higher unit cost, it allows for construction using local materials and local house designs. Homes will have cooking area, toilet, LPG connection, electricity connection and water supply through convergence, and beneficiaries can plan their homes as per their need. Training programme for Rural Masons has been launched to meet a critical skill requirement for quality construction. The selection of beneficiaries has been through a rigorous process using Socio Economic Census (SECC) Data for those who are homeless or in 0, 1, 2 kutcha rooms with kutcha roof. The SECC Data has been validated by Gram Sabha and also subjected to space technology validation to ensure that there are no inclusion errors. 2014 CAG’s Performance Audit Report highlighted problem of ineligible beneficiaries covered under Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY). It has been completely taken care of through the 3 filter selection process under PMAY-G. A total of 44 lakh houses were approved for 2016-17 and the government hopes to complete all of them by December 2017. A completion period of 6 to 12 months is being followed in PMAY-G.
The other major thrust was to complete most of the 36 lakh incomplete Indira Awaas Yojana houses which had been pending from anywhere between 1 to 4 years. As per the reports received from the States, a total of 32.14 lakh houses have been completed in 2016-17.
States like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Assam have taken the lead in the implementation of the PMAY-G. States like Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Maharashtra have done well in completing a very large number of incomplete Indira Awaas Yojana houses.
The Department of Rural Development hopes to complete 51 lakh houses in 2017-18. An additional 33 lakh houses will be sanctioned for 2017-18 shortly. A similar number is proposed to be completed in 2018-19 making the completion during 2016-19 period of 1.35 crore houses. This will pave the way for Housing for All by 2022.
Another important scheme called Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY) is aimed at translating the comprehensive and organic vision of Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi on rural development into a reality, keeping in view the present context. The objective of this programme is to create Model Villages through innovation in convergence and thereby motivate and inspire neighbouring Gram Panchayats. Members of Parliament are to develop three Adarsh Gram Panchayats by March 2019 – one Adarsh Gram by 2016 and two more Adarsh Grams by 2019. There-after, Five Adarsh Grams (one per year) are to be developed by 2024.
A Gram Panchayat will be the basic unit which will have a population of 3000 to 5000 in plain areas and 1000 to 3000 in hilly, tribal and difficult areas. The MP would be free to identify a suitable Gram Panchayat for being developed as Adarsh Gram, other than his/her own village or that of his/her spouse. The all round development of the Gram Panchayats is adopted under the Yojana.
Members of Parliament have so far adopted 897 Gram Panchayats. In the states, 21,926 projects have already been completed or in progress out of 40,962 projects that were planned to be implemented. Significant progress has been achieved towards holistic development in many of the SAGY Gram Panchayats. The development of Gram Panchayats, identified under SAGY, is intended to take place through the convergence and implementation of existing Government Schemes and Programmes without allocating additional funds.The development of Gram Panchayats identified under SAGY is intended to take place through the convergence and implementation of existing Government Schemes and Programs without allocating additional funds.
*Author is a senior freelance journalist and regularly writes for newspapers and magazines. Earlier worked with PTI for two decades.
Views expressed in the article are author’s own.