“It never reached anywhere except in the pockets of the officers, contractors”
“Bundelkhand package? It never reached anywhere except in the pockets of the officers and contractors.” This is the standard reply one gets on queries over the ambitious Rs. 7,266 crore special package announced by the Planning Commission for this backward drought-prone region of Uttar Pradesh.
Announced in 2009, the package was meant for the overall development of the region spread across districts in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh — collectively known as the Bundelkhand region — and was to be implemented over three financial years between 2009-10 and 2011-12.
Of this amount, Rs. 3,506 crore was meant for seven districts in U.P. and the remaining for development of six districts bordering M.P. A substantial chunk of the money was to be allotted for the already existing schemes of watershed management, irrigation, drinking water, animal husbandry and environment.
Driving down the far-off regions where the much-touted package was to be implemented, villagers have tales to narrate of how officials and politicians allegedly ensured that it was not implemented and wherever some work was done, it was mere tokenism.
“Diseased goats were distributed by the State government under the livelihood scheme of the package that, instead of helping the poor farmer, resulted in the death of his own cattle as the infection spread,” explained Deepak, a local journalist in Lalitpur.
His friend pitched in to explain how 6,000 wells were dug up across the district but these collapsed within a few months because money was exhausted in digging and no funds were released to upgrade them.
There is another instance where several lakh of rupees were shown as spent on a road from Jhansi to a nearby village. But the road did not exist. When Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia visited the village to review the implementation of the scheme last year, along with local Congress MP Pradeep Jain, the local contractor is said to have shouted down Mr. Jain for pointing out the deficiencies.
“I am looking for the package. Where is it? Bundelkhand package could well be the biggest scandal,” said Bharatiya Janata Party leader Uma Bharti. Her sentiments are shared by the Congress as well as the Samajwadi Party.
A review of the Bundelkhand package showed that only 16.57 per cent of the total allocation has been spent so far in Uttar Pradesh and 21.70 per cent in Madhya Pradesh over the past two years. The package is now expected to be extended by the Planning Commission.
The National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA) is the nodal agency created under the Planning Commission to release the funds under the Bundelkhand package. According to the NRAA, till November 30, 2011, it released Rs. 860.973 crore to U.P. out of a total allocation of Rs. 3,606 crore. But only Rs. 280.99 crore was spent. While Rs. 1,129.92 crore was released to M.P. out of a total allocation of Rs. 3,860 crore, it spent a meagre Rs. 424.4 crore.
The U.P. government is yet to demand the second instalment since it is yet to spend 70 per cent of the first instalment, which is mandatory as per the rules. However, the State government led by the Bahujan Samaj Party has been accusing the Centre of not releasing the funds on time that resulted in the poor implementation of package schemes. Uttar Pradesh has been demanding Rs. 80,000 crore for the development of the Bundelkhand region.
“There can be no proper implementation of any scheme unless there is independent monitoring,” points out Professor Krishna Gandhi, a social activist who runs an NGO Abhiruchi. He said the State government and the people were unaware of what the package was all about. Whatever money came was spent without proper planning and effective monitoring, he said while suggesting overseeing the implementation by an independent ombudsman.
As of now, the local monitoring committees set up by the Congress workers are not adequate enough. There is resentment that the Central monitoring team that visits off and on does only an aerial survey of the works done under the package and hence is unable to get the authentic picture of the mess that the scheme is in.