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To secure 2019 general elections, Modi govt targets development of rural economy

The rural ministry’s latest plan submitted before the PMO sets specific goals by 2019 that includes “drought-proof” water conservation programmes in at least 50,000 gram panchayats.

india Updated: May 05, 2017 09:40 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
General elections 2019,Narendra Modi government,Narendra Modi
The failure to amend the land Act is the biggest setback for the Modi government in pushing reforms. The proposed amendments are pending in Parliament but the government seems to have given up hopes to push them.(HT Photo/ Representational image)

Almost every other month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds a review meeting of the rural development ministry to keep the bureaucracy responsible for catering to around 22 crore people on its toes.

In one of those meetings, Modi posed a question: “How can we ensure that the money we are spending is going to the right person?”

That question sparked off a massive administrative, technological and manual exercise aimed to shake up the system. The process, ironically, coincided with the government’s renewed thrust on rural development, which, the critics say, was missing in Modi’s first year of governance.

“Their approach towards rural development changed midway. They came to power with a lot of negative sentiments towards rural programmes but soon realized that rural areas are going through a crisis,” said Himangshu, professor of economics in JNU.

And now, with the Modi government entering the last couple of years of its term before the 2019 general elections, the rural sector will see a stronger focus on sustainable livelihood mission, or in other words, how to increase the household income of people living in rural areas.

The ministry’s latest plan submitted before the PMO sets specific goals by 2019 that includes “drought-proof” water conservation programmes in at least 50,000 gram panchayats.

Work in progress
In the process of revamping existing schemes, the Modi government will have to meet the aspirations of rural youth
Year-wise expenditure on rural development
Key hurdles
Payment of wages

In the last financial year, most poor workers didn’t get their wages in time. According to the law, their salaries should be given within 15 days of completion of their jobs. Despite the NDA govt’s push for Aadhaar and more flow of funds, the problem persists
Job cards
As the govt is trying to remove fake job cards, there have been drives to cancel ‘inactive job cards’ for MNREGA. According to activist Jean Dreze, job cards in Jharkhand and Karnataka were cancelled as "NREGA functionaries were under pressure to meet 100% Aadhaar seeding targets"
According to a govt report, delays in preparation and approval of works, issue of job cards, delay in wage payments and administrative arrangements have hit the scheme
Even as the rural road project has seen progress, building stretches in Maoist belts still a problem. As large patches of land remain ‘inaccessible’ to authorities, connectivity in these belts in states like Chhattisgarh, Odisha is lagging behind.

It also wants to cover 45 lakh households under skill development programme to reap the benefits of demographic advantage from the villages. It plans 55 lakh households covered through individual livelihood support and 4- 5 crore women in self help groups.

A new rural transport scheme is also expected to be kickstarted, in which rural entrepreneurs may get passenger vehicles at a 40% cheaper price. The scheme not only aims to provide alternate employment to rural youth and women, but will also leverage the vast network of rural roads.

“The PMO is very clear in its objective. It has given us free hand is shaping schemes and roadmaps. The supply of fund is smooth. So, there’s no scope of excuse for not meeting targets and the outcome,” said Amarjeet Sinha, rural development secretary.

The government embarked upon a series of measures to bring more transparency and accountability in the process. But not before trying to change the UPA-era land Act unsuccessfully. The Centre pushed through two successive ordinances amendments that essentially increased compensation for land but took away the farmer’s right of refusal to any land acquisition bid.

The failure to amend the land Act is still the biggest setback for the Modi government in pushing reforms. The proposed amendments are still pending in Parliament but the government seems to have given up hopes to push them. But on the administrative front there are clear signs of improvements. Experts, however, dub them as incremental.

“First of all, I don’t think there’s any huge hike in actual allocation in rural schemes. The income standards in villages have not improved substantially. 60-64% of people still depend on agriculture but they constitute only 15% of the GDP earnings,” said Abhirup Sarkar, professor of economics, Indian Statistical Institute.

Officials try to emphasize that as the scope of rural development expands, the Modi government wants to plug possible leakages.

In the last year, a record of average 130 kms of rural roads was built daily. 96% of the wages in MNREGA are now transferred electronically, up from mere 13% in 2013-14. The last financial year also saw 52.4 lakh works under the rural job scheme while the average rate of complete work varied between 15-25 lakhs.

The socio-economic caste census – the blue book to identify India’s poor population – was already there. A layer of physical identification of beneficiaries was added. “Officials went to re-check the status of the each and every household identified in the census. This was done to ensure that the targeted beneficiaries are genuinely poor,” says Amarjeet Sinha, rural development secretary.

The Aadhaar seeding also saw a great push and so did electronic transfer of payments. Five years ago, only 13% money was transferred to the states and beneficiaries electronically, but now, more than 90% funds take the e-route. Recently, the government scrapped 9.3 million job cards.

Last year, Modi also organized a presentation from the space department for other departments to see how far space technology can be used for tracking work-in-progress. Now, the geo-tagging with the help of satellites has become the biggest weapon for the rural ministry to keep tab on assets created under MNREGA or rural job scheme and also to curb corruption.

One of the interesting findings of the geo-tagging of assets in rural roads saw that more complaints of bad or incomplete roads coming from North India.

Himangshu, however, feels that the NDA government has not introduced any new scheme so far but only tightened the loose ends in existing schemes.

“The government is certainly revamping existing schemes but a now approach for rural programmes is needed. These schemes to build houses and roads, dig ponds can’t go on ever. The real problem is the growing aspirations of rural youth, but the government has not catered this aspiration for growth and better life in any programme,” he said.

Sarkar too, maintains that there is a need for a new approach. “I think there is a basic difference between how the Congress and Narendra Modi looks at poverty eradication. Congress believed in directly addressing poverty while Modi government believes that the effects of economic growth will trickle down.”

First Published: May 05, 2017 07:22 IST