New Delhi: The pace of progress on a flagship government programme to develop rural infrastructure has accelerated since April last year and the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which is preparing for the general election early next year or even late this year, is maintaining that the pace will continue, but critics and experts say the government is overstating its case by claiming that all is well with the initiative.
At the end of March 2007, the government had met only a fifth of its target to build irrigation infrastructure under the larger Bharat Nirman programme which seeks to create a new rural India. In the case of access to drinking water, the government had met a little under a third of its target. By the end of October 2007, it improved the standing in both projects by meeting a third of the target in the case of irrigation and almost half in the case of drinking water.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) that is overseeing the progress of Bharat Nirman, claims the pace will continue. “Over 70% of work on rural roads, electrification and irrigation will be complete by April 2009. Our estimates are near 100% in rural telephony, housing and water supply (except quality), though there will always be small residual leftovers for area specific reasons,” said a senior official at the PMO who did not wish to be identified. He added that in the case of rural housing, the government would exceed its target of creating six million houses by 2009.
Not everyone buys that argument.
The leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the Lok Sabha, Basudeb Acharia, said it was an exaggeration on the part of the government to claim that all was fine with its flagship programme. “Each of the schemes under the programme is at a different level of progress. So you can’t generalize and say the programme has largely achieved its objective,” Acharia added. His party is part of the Left Front, a key ally of the UPA government.
Numbers would appear to bear Acharia’s claim of patchy progress.
For instance, 90% of the backlog in road connectivity is in seven out of the nine key states, which means that there has been significant progress only in two states, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
“Lack of detailed project reports in states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal is causing a big hindrance in the progress of road connectivity. It may take the government much longer to resolve the situation which means further delay of the project,” said a senior Planning Commission official who did not wish to be identified.
Again, only 10% of total targeted households of 23 million, poor (below the poverty line , or BPL) households have been provided access to electricity. “The target of household electrification is a subsidiary target. It will necessarily be slower as households will begin to take connections after the supply has reached (their area),” said the PMO official. He defended the delay and said this particular project had started seven months late because it had to wait for a clearance in the 11th Plan.
India’s economic planning, especially for developmental projects, is done through the so-called Five-Year Plans. The Planning Commission, the apex planning agency, draws up these plans in association with government ministries.
The government also disburses money for various projects of the Union and state governments through the commission.
The project to provide drinking water to households, the PMO official admitted, would continue beyond the 2009 target because of the challenge involved in ensuring the water is clean. The water provided has to be free from arsenic and fluorides, and should not be saline.
Officials closely associated with Bharat Nirman but did not wish to be identified said there are practical problems in execution of various projects due to factors including lack of contractors who can execute these in some states and the readiness of states to put in their share of funds which are causing delays in the programme implementation.
Kiran Maheshwari, a Lok Sabha member of the Bharatiya Janata Party from Udaipur, Rajasthan, and a member of the parliamentary standing committee on rural development, said the Union government had neither provided enough funds nor set up an effective monitoring mechanism for the schemes under Bharat Nirman.
“Some of the state governments deserve credit for implementing some of the schemes covered under Bharat Nirman. However, the project on the whole is suffering from a lack of adequate Central support,” Maheshwari added.
“I can tell you that in Rajasthan, for instance, many small villages are not getting road connectivity because of the lack of funds under this scheme,” he said.
With a total estimated cost of Rs1.76 trillion, Bharat Nirman was announced in budget 2005-06. The initiative had a business plan and was to be completed over a four-year period (2005-09). Targets were set for each of the six components or projects under the programme: drinking water, roads, electricity, housing, irrigation and telephony in rural areas.
The programme is being monitored by the Committee on Rural Infrastructure chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
By March 2007, two years after work began on the programme, only 21% of the four-year target for irrigating 10 million ha of land had been met. In the case of connecting villages by road, only 18% had been met.
Ashish Sharma contributed to this story.