New Delhi: To ensure better targeting and utilization of funds, the government is proposing to reverse the planning process and empower local bodies while allocating Rs25,000 crore in additional funding for agriculture and related projects over the next five years.
“The municipal bodies and the panchayats will formulate area-specific plans for development of agricultural and related activities such as irrigation, animal husbandry, fishery and poultry development, pass them on to their respective states, which, after necessary modifications, will forward the plan to the Centre. The Planning Commission and the agriculture ministry will then decide how much of additional funding will be given to each of these projects,” said a senior Planning Commission official who did not wish to be identified.
Logical Move: Municipal bodies and the panchayats will formulate area specific plans for the development of agricultural and related activities, according to a senior Planning Commission official
Instead of the top-down approach, where the Centre allocates the spending, local bodies will formulate proposals and route them through their state governments to the Centre for approval. Total spending in the current fiscal, with the cabinet approving the strategy last week, is estimated at Rs1,500 crore.
The plans will be first put up to the district planning committee, which has the powers to examine and propose changes in the draft for development projects.
The officials also said agricultural universities and horticulture and animal husbandry departments in the districts concerned will play a vital role in project formulation.
“Projects which involve out -of-box thinking and give major boost to production and productivity will be given priority,” said the same Commission official. He also said detailed guidelines for implementing these projects will be finalized by the Commission in a week to 10 days.
The Commission is expecting at least 8-10 states to come up concrete plans before March-end.
It will, among other things, require state governments to not only sustain investments in agriculture at existing levels, but also come up with a decentralized strategy that will extend it to each of their districts.
The National Development Council, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, resolved in its meeting on 29 May that an additional Central assistance scheme will be launched to incentivize states that increase the share of agriculture in their plans.
Last week, the cabinet committee on economic affairs approved the assistance scheme, the funds under which would be provided to the states as 100% grants.
According to agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan, such a bottom-up plan related to infrastructure sector has worked well in Kerala.
“Blocks or panchayats are best disposed to address their local needs as there is much more correlation between priorities and programmes,” he said, adding that the report of the National Commission on Farmers had suggested that district level initiatives in agriculture should be spearheaded by the area’s eminent farmer.
Y.K. Alagh, chairman of the Institute of Rural Management in Anand, Gujarat, says empowering local bodies is a good move though may take a couple of years to implement. “Involving farmer groups, local bodies, regional rural banks and National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development were part of agro-climatic planning submitted to the government in 1989 but, unfortunately, the Planning Commission weakened the concept and was in favour top-down planning,” he said.
“I am glad it is doing so now.”