The Centre will provide separate funds under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY) for enhancing road connectivity in the six border districts -- Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Ferozepur, Fazilka, Tarn Taran and Pathankot -- of Punjab, according to union minister for rural development, drinking water and sanitation, Jairam Ramesh.
Addressing a seminar on rural development policies, attended by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, leader of opposition Sunil Jakhar, MLAs, deputy commissioners and other state officials here on Saturday, Ramesh also announced that the condition of minimum inhabitation of 500 persons for providing road connectivity under the PMGSY would be halved to 250 in the case of border districts, as has been done for tribal and naxal-hit areas.
As regards the “right of way” condition, the mandatory width for a road to be approved, the minister said the rural development ministry was in favour of reducing it from the current 10 metres to 8.33 metres. The ministry had already approached the Indian Roads Congress for a formal approval, he said.
Referring to inadequate funds available for construction of a toilet under the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), Ramesh informed that the Centre has decided to increase this limit from next month to Rs 9,500 from the Rs 3,500 at present. Of this, Rs 5,000 would be available as direct subsidy and Rs 4,500 would be available under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS).
Also, the union government has decided to remove the BPL (below poverty line) condition for providing funds under the rural sanitation programmes.
And in what could translate into Rs 5-6 lakh per annum of untied funds to each panchayat in the country, the Centre has also decided that of the total budgetary allocation of Rs 99,000 crore for the rural development ministry, 1% would be given to the gram panchayats to carry out programmes as per their own priorities.
But to ensure greater transparency and accountability, the minister said, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) would henceforth audit every rural development programme on the financial and performance parameters. Also, each panchayat would have to get compulsory certification of its accounts every year.
‘Hike in pension on cards’
Union minister Jairam Ramesh on Saturday indicated that the Congress-led UPA government was likely to increase the monthly pension being given to various categories of people under social security schemes.
“There is a move to increase the old age pension,” he said. But the minister expressed serious concern over delayed disbursement of the pension to the elderly, widows and the physically challenged.
“My experience is that no one gets the… pension every month. This is wrong. It should be disbursed every month well on time by the state governments,” he added.
The problem, he said, partly lies in having at least six channels for releasing the pension, and he favoured a system in which the pension is released directly to the state department concerned by the Centre. If Punjab agreed, he said, his ministry would try that. “I think Punjab’s finance minister will not agree,” he remarked.