Rahul Gandhi's pet project for the water-starved Bundelkhand region has received its first tranche of additional Central assistance well in time for water-harvesting structures, ponds and dug wells to be in place before the monsoon sets in.

Last week, on the Planning Commission's recommendation, the Centre released Rs. 418.42 crore in grant under the Bundelkhand Drought Mitigation Package. Of this, Rs.196.40 crore is meant for Madhya Pradesh and Rs. 222.02 crore for Uttar Pradesh. Six districts of Madhya Pradesh and seven of Uttar Pradesh constitute the Bundelkhand region.

“Yes, we wanted to take advantage of the monsoon season and wanted the work to commence immediately on the schemes and structures that are required for water conservation. The projects will cover water resources, animal husbandry and dairying activities and watershed management,” said Sudha Pillai, Secretary, Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission based its recommendation on the projects submitted by the two States and approved by the National Rainfed Area Authority, which oversees the region's development.

After the issue was taken up by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the National Rainfed Area Authority went into the problems and submitted its recommendations for putting the region back on feet. Accepting the report, the Centre approved Rs.7,266 crore for the development of the region, and half of the sum will be given for completing the ongoing projects.

Speaking to The Hindu, J.S. Samra, Chief Executive Officer of the National Rainfed Area Authority, said his team would soon hold district-level meetings to firm up a district plan that could be executed by both the States. While Madhya Pradesh has a Bundelkhand authority in place, Uttar Pradesh is setting up a mechanism.

Dr. Samra's priority would be “convergence” of ongoing schemes with new projects, or of projects under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act with construction of water bodies and infrastructure projects under the Backward Region Grant Fund.

The first few district-level meetings would be held jointly with Ms. Pillai, who has gained a rich experience by working in the rural development and labour ministries, Dr. Samra said.