The NDA government may spend more than half of its annual rural development budget by June to tackle drought and unprecedented shortage of water across the country.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been meeting chief ministers to take stock of the drought situation across the country, the Union rural ministry is working to create a million farm ponds this year — the essential infrastructure to hold rainwater in rural habitats. It has also paced up housing and road construction in a bid to provide more jobs in this time of distress.
The rural development ministry was allocated Rs 87,765 crore for this financial year in the last general budget.
“We have an annual MGNREGA budget of Rs 38,500 crore. Out of it, we have already released Rs 19,340 crore. By June we are likely to distribute an additional Rs 10,000 crore under MGNREGA. This money is primarily targeted to tackle drought,” said a senior official of the rural ministry.
Top government officials said housing construction under the Pradhan Mantri Grameen Awas Yojna, the rural roads and livelihood mission, was set to consume another Rs 20,000 crore as these were seen as key areas of employment generation. The ministry is also racing against time to meet its target of constructing ten million houses for the rural poor by 2019.
“We may have to infuse another Rs 24,000 crore by June to tackle the distressed rural sector,” said another senior official.
In his meetings with the chief ministers, Modi has been emphasising the creation of check dams, farm ponds and other water bodies to hold back rainwater. In his Mann ki Baat radio address, too, Modi had spoken at length about preserving water.
Andhra Pradesh has set a requirement of 600,000 farm ponds while Jharkhand wants to build 150,000 water bodies. In Jharkhand, the target is to have 150,000 farm ponds while the government will help Rajasthan construct around 30,000 such ponds. Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and some other states have a cumulative demand of another 3 lakh farm ponds.
The cost of building a farm pond varies from state to state depending upon the nature of the soil. An arid area would mean a MGNREGA budget of Rs 1.5 lakh to build a deep pond. In rain-fed areas, the cost comes down to about Rs 50,000-60,000.
As the employment guarantee plan is likely to exhaust the lion’s share of this year’s annual rural budget, the ministry will seek more allocations for MGNREGA for the remaining months. It has Rs 19,000 crore for rural roads and around Rs 15,000 crore for rural housing.
India’s per capita availability of water is below the global threshold, signaling an urgent need to address conservation for a growing population and an expanding economy.
Last week, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the Centre over delayed payment of MGNREGA wages. It ordered the government to release funds to ensure there was no delay in wage payment. It even told the Centre to give compensation if wages were not paid within the stipulated 15 days.