India's villages will get some 46,000 km of roads at a cost of Rs 15,000 crore ($3 billion) this fiscal (2009-10) even as the rural job guarantee scheme will be recast to drive the overall economy rather than just assure 100 days of employment, says a new policy document of the government.
For the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-12), the target for village roads is 230,447 km, says the action plan, expected to be unveiled soon by Rural Development Minister CP Joshi. A draft copy was obtained by IANS.
India currently has a road network of 3,316,452 km.
The ministry's action plan also aims to enlarge the scope of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme that promises 100 days of employment to one member of each household. The idea is to make it an overall driver of the rural economy.
"The aim is to consolidate our existing flagship programmes - like those for employment, education, health and infrastructure. We will also launch new schemes on food security and skill development," said a senior official in the ministry requesting anonymity.
For this, the action plan proposes a double-barrelled approach - initiating new works to create permanent assets like watershed projects and bridges and making small and marginal farmers eligible for jobs under these programmes.
"Earlier, most projects engaged workers for things that did not help create permanent assets. They were involved in sundry works like road repairs, building temporary check dams and digging pits," the ministry official said.
"Now the scope of work will be expanded. Focus will be on expanding social and economic infrastructure rather than mere employment for unskilled manual workers."
Officials said adequate funding would also be provided as the government's focus on rural development has already seen the allocation for the ministry during the current five-year plan stepped up by a whopping 116 percent.
The allocation now stands at Rs 194,933 crore ($38 billion), up from Rs 90,014 crore ($18 billion) for the 10th plan period.
The action plan says the works allotted under the job guarantee programme is limited to unskilled manual work and draws from the need for reform suggested by President Pratibha Patil in her most recent address to the joint session of parliament.
Accordingly, the action plan envisages convergence of other rural development programmes undertaken by other ministries like those for water resources, forests and environment and agriculture ministries.
An equal emphasis has also been laid on ensuring that the programmes are free from corruption and implemented properly.
"Social audit of the schemes will be enforced and grievances settled by ombudsmen at district levels," the official said, adding it will also be mandatory on the part of state governments to submit action-taken reports.
Similarly, accountability and transparency will be ensured while implementing the Bharat Nirman (national reconstruction) programme of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that is being jointly executed by various ministries.
For this purpose, the ministers concerned will publicise the Bharat Nirman quarterly reports on the progress of various schemes through the media. The rural development ministry on its part will submit a countrywide annual employment report to the Planning Commission.
The Commission will shortly provide the ministry with guidelines on what the annual reports should include, says the ministry document.