Jairam Ramesh calls for more freedom for States in spending money for projects

The time has come to re-design and re-structure the approach to rural development by taking into account specific needs of States, focussing more on the outcome, making drinking water and sanitation as priority areas and above all making it as a tool in the government's political and ideological fight against Naxalism, Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh said here on Friday.

Considering the fact that Union Government's annual budget for rural development comes second only to Defence, a whole lot needs to be done to focus on the outcome of the programmes implemented by States and local bodies using the Central funds, he said. In the current fiscal, the Ministry's allocation was Rs.88,000 crore, he added.

Participating in the inaugural session of a two-day All India Editors Conference on Social Sector Issues here, Mr. Ramesh said his Ministry had mooted the idea of having “concurrent evaluation network” by way of establishing 60 to 70 research institutions across the country entrusted with the role of assessing the Centre's rural development programmes on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. They would report to the Centre, he added.

After complaints of irregularities in centrally sponsored schemes such as MGNREGA, the Ministry had opened up the rural development programmes for social audit and already held three meetings with Comptroller and Auditor General to discuss the matter. However such audits are done after something had happened, the Minister said, adding he was not in favour of post-mortems. Hence the Ministry proposed to institutionalise a concurrent evaluation network, he said.

“I want to give more freedom to States so that they can spend money for the programmes that they select. By end of 12 plan 50 per cent of the money provided by Centre should be used for programmes selected by the States. I have suggested to the Finance Minister that this year in the Budget 10 per cent of the funds be tied as flexi funds,” he said.

He said the nation cannot no more underestimate the challenge posed by Maoists and their ideology, which according to him has taken roots in at least 78 districts, and can be defeated through rural development.

Pointing out that drinking water and sanitation were the two areas that did not get due importance, he said it was a shame that 60 per cent of all open defecations are in India. He said 70 per cent of funds in MGNREGA was being spent for water conservation, rainwater harvesting and watershed management programmes.

Expressing dismay at the way Centrally-sponsored schemes were being implemented, Minister of State for Prime Minister's Office V. Narayanasamy said there was a need for a system to ensure that the money was spent purposefully. Lieutenant Governor Iqbal Singh, Chief Minister N. Rangasamy, Social Welfare Minister P. Rajavelu, Electricity Minister T. Thyagarajan participated.