New Delhi: All is not green yet in India’s countryside, though some of the ruling coalition’s rural development schemes, mainly the flagship National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or NREGS, have fared well.
Official data also show the government has done well in rural housing and telephony, both part of Bharat Nirman, a four-year, Rs1.76 trillion rural infrastructure development programme launched in 2005 with 31 March 2009 as the deadline for completion of projects.
NREGS was launched in 2006, covering some 200 districts across the country. The scheme, which aims to provide at least 100 days of employment to at least one member of a household in rural areas a year, was extended to all districts across India in 2008-09.
Taking stock: As of March 2008, according to a review by the Planning Commission, 50% of the targets had been met in irrigation, 60% in rural drinking water and about 33% in roads and electrification. Most of these will spill over to fiscal 2012, said a senior Planning Commission official. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
Since it was extended, the scheme has benefited nearly 38 million households across the country, minister for rural development Raghuvansh Prasad Singh has said in Parliament.
In housing, the government has already met the target of building six million rural homes, ahead of schedule, and in rural telephony, it has almost met the targets, Planning Commission data show.
Besides, its efforts at empowering local self-governance in villages through Panchayat Empowerment and Accountability Scheme has led to effective implementation of schemes such as Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana, aimed at self-employment of the rural poor, according to government data.
Also See Long Way To Go (Graphic)
“I would give the UPA (United Progressive Alliance, the ruling coalition at the Centre) eight out of 10 in its rural initiative. I have been travelling in the interiors of Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat and I see a different rural India after NREGS. The 15-20% people who were totally unheard of now have a voice and work,” said Y.K. Alagh, chairman, Institute of Rural Management.
He, however, didn’t rule out corruption in the scheme, but believes it has brought about a revolution in India’s villages.
However, the government is unlikely to meet its own targets in several components under the Bharat Nirman programme, including roads, irrigation, drinking water and electrification.
“Even NREGS is experiencing a lot of leakages. I would not give UPA more than four out of 10 in its rural development initiative,” said S.L. Rao, chairman, Institute for Social and Economic Change. “Most of these rural programmes except NREGS is a continuation of earlier programmes started by the NDA (National Democratic Alliance, the previous government at the Centre). What the UPA has done well is maintain the momentum.”
Of the Centre’s rural schemes, only Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan or SSA and NREGS have done well, he added. SSA is a universal education programme for elementary education.
The government, on its part, is claiming NREGS is helping fight job losses amid the economic downturn. “Job losses due to recession can partly be taken care of through guaranteed job opportunities for at least 100 days under the NREGS,” Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman, Planning Commission, told reporters recently.
“During 2008-09 (up to January 2009), 4 crore households have been provided employment under NREGS. Vigilance and monitoring committees have been set up at state, district and village levels,” rural development minister Singh told Parliament last week.
He added that the area of concern now is creating awareness about the programme as also capacity building of the implementing agencies.
What may turn against the UPA in the elections due before May could be its performance in the rural schemes on roads, irrigation, electricity and drinking water facilities.
As of March 2008, according to a review by the Planning Commission, only 50% of the four-year programme’s targets were met in irrigation, 60% in drinking water and about 33% in rural roads and electrification.
“Very little has changed since March 2008 on these fronts. Most of these programmes will spill over to fiscal 2012 and rural folk may not take kindly to it during polls,” said a senior Planning Commission official closely monitoring Bharat Nirman, requesting anonymity.
Under the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, a rural electrification scheme and a Bharat Nirman component, by 15 January only 44% of total 125,000 village targeted and only 20% of 23 million poor houses were electrified.
So far, Rs12,000 crore has been released under this initiative. According to Rao, the government has made an absolute mess of rural electrification with several crore rupees going down the drain.
“For the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (a scheme to link unconnected rural habitations), the problem states have been Bihar, Jharkhand, and Orissa, because we did not get enough detailed project reports from these states,” said a senior official in the ministry of rural development, who did not want to be identified.
One of the biggest announcements in the 2008-09 Union Budget was a farm loan waiver programme for 43 million farmers. Mint’s teams visited several villages across the country in June and July to find out the real beneficiaries and it concluded that wilful defaulters benefited more. However, Pranab Mukherjee, the interim finance minister, in his 16 February Budget speech said the Rs65,300 crore relief and waiver package benefited 36 million farmers across the country.
Another populist move in the past five years has been hikes in the minimum support price, or MSP, of rice and wheat, particularly in 2007 and 2008. Since 2003-04, while the MSP for rise has been increased by 64%, that of wheat has risen by 71%. MSP is the price the government assures farmers to avoid distress sales.
Thrust on agriculture
The Plan allocation to agriculture since the UPA took over has risen rose by 300%. “Under the UPA, agricultural growth has doubled from 1.5% in early 1990 to close to 3% during the UPA regime,” Alagh said.
To make an assessment of agriculture’s performance, the government organized a National Development Council, or NDC, meet on agriculture in May 2007. NDC is a high-level meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, and Union cabinet ministers and chief ministers are part of it. UPA also set up the National Food Security Mission to enhance production and productivity of rice, wheat and pulses.
To enhance the educational levels of rural children, the UPA government, after focusing on elementary education through SSA, started a new programme for secondary education called the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan in 2008. It sanctioned 20,000 upper primary schools and 59,000 teachers in 2008-09.
“The government has started many new schools and appointed teachers. The next step will be to improve the quality of education,” said the Planning Commission’s Ahluwalia.
Graphics by Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is preparing to bow out and face elections after an eventful five years in power. What is the legacy the Congress party-led coalition will bequeath to the nation — and the next government? Mint chronicles the UPA’s performance, its achievements and failures, in a series of stories that will look at key aspects of governance, accompanied by insightful analysis by experts. The first of the stories is on rural development, a subject that has been high on the UPA’s agenda.