Acceding to the demands of Punjab and other states whose boundaries touch international borders, the Centre has in-principle agreed to bring these under the Pradhan Mantri Sadak Yojana (PMSY) by relaxing the existing population norm.
"Some of these border areas are sparsely populated, and under the existing population norm for the PMSY, such rural areas cannot be included under this scheme. So we have decided not to apply the population clause in case of border areas so that the road network in these areas can be developed or upgraded under the scheme," union minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh said while talking to reporters after paying obeisance at the Golden Temple here on Friday.
The minister, who commenced his two-day visit of Punjab to apprise himself of the central schemes of his ministry being executed by the state government, will visit certain border belts before meeting the chief minister in Chandigarh on Saturday.
His tour programme includes visits to Qadian, Ferozepur and Jalalabad. He had a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi on Thursday related to rural development schemes for Punjab.
Ramesh said that under the PMSY, another 18,000 km of roads would be upgraded in Punjab. The proposal for this had been cleared, he added.
PROVIDING CLEAN DRINKING WATER
Pointing to the contamination of groundwater due to the presence of uranium and arsenic in the Malwa belt, which was being viewed as the principal reason for the increasing number of cancer cases, Ramesh said his ministry was according priority to the problem. The central government and his ministry would give all assistance for providing clean drinking water to the rural population in the state, he added.
The minister lamented that a mere 200 of the 16,000 panchayats in Punjab had got the status of the nirmal gram panchayats. Every family in rural Punjab must have a toilet if there had to be a talk about rights of women or of improving their living standard, he added.
"In the country, 60% of the women do not have access to toilets. To improve this scenario, we have decided to increase the subsidy on toilets from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 and all states should avail of this benefit," Jairam Ramesh added.
SCHEME FOR SEMI-RURAL AREAS
When questioned on the increasing urbanization of rural areas in the country, the minister said that owing to this factor there were areas that could neither be classified as urban, nor rural.
As such areas may miss out on schemes of the rural development ministry earmarked exclusively for rural areas, the central government had come up with an initiative for development of these areas, he added.
Ramesh said that under the initiative, which included improving the infrastructure of such areas, Kerala had been sanctioned two central projects. Likewise, his ministry had cleared two schemes for Rajasthan and another for Uttarakhand, he said, while calling upon Punjab to submit a proposal and avail funds under the new initiative.
The projects sanctioned under the initiative will be in the public-private partnership mode with contributions coming from the central government as well as the state besides the executing private enterprise chipping in with its share.
SGPC HONOURS MINISTER
SGPC executive member Rajinder Singh Mehta and secretary Dalmegh Singh honoured Ramesh with a 'siropa' and a replica of the Golden Temple. During his visit to the shrine, Ramesh was accompanied by Khadoor Sahib Akali Dal MP Rattan Singh and Batala Congress MLA Ashwani Sekri.