Ensuring basic amenities for rural India
How has your experience been in the ministry till now?
It has been a challenging job since 68 per cent of our population still reside in rural areas, where they are deprived of many basic amenities. For our government, ensuring the availability of such amenities for the rural sector is a priority. Such facilities, which are available in towns or cities, should be provided to each villager. However, ensuring their availability is a challenge due to factors like demography and connectivity, among others.
What all has your ministry achieved since you took charge?
Our ministry is involved in three to four very important programmes. One is the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA). There was a lot of speculation that MNREGA might not get due importance and the funds related to it might be cut. However, this year we have been allotted the maximum funds under MNREGA, which speaks of the good intentions of our government.
We also made it clear on the floor of the House that if more funds are required then MNREGA would be given due importance. We have made some very basic changes in the implementation of the MNREGA scheme. Now 60 per cent of the total funds can be utilised for agriculture and allied activities. This is a major change that we have made. Although leakages exist, no foolproof arrangement has come up till now. We have, however, introduced electronic finance management. I have given special instruction to my ministry that important officers from the rural development ministry should be in-charge of one state each, so that they can oversee implementation of this scheme.
What is the ministry doing on the ground level to ensure that this scheme is being implemented successfully?
This is precisely the reason we have designated one officer for each state. Also regarding funds, we have made sure the system is streamlined to a large extent. Funds from the government will go directly to the beneficiaries. Close monitoring, social auditing and others such steps are being taken to ensure its implementation. We are all focused on making sure that the beneficiaries receive the funds directly.
What future plans do you have in mind regarding the ministry?
There are various plans we have in mind. One of the flagship programmes we are focusing on is to provide a house to everyone who does not have one. The demand for such houses would amount to three crore. We are working together with the urban development ministry regarding this project.
Taking ahead Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision, we have launched a scheme for skill development. My ministry is also focusing on another key programme - Rurban Mission, which envisages the strengthening of rural infrastructure. This was earlier known as Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas (PURA).
The Rurban Mission will now be focusing on nearly 300 clusters all over the country. In some cases 20 villages might be involved in one cluster. In other cases, it might be a cluster of 5-6 villages, depending on the size of the population. These clusters will generate businesses and job opportunities for the youth. All sorts of facilities prevalent in towns and cities will be made available here. There will also be multi-level connectivity for each of these clusters.
Are you ready to amend the contentious Land Bill to ensure its passage in Parliament?
Yes, why not. We are ready to make changes and amendments. If there is consensus on certain aspects in the Land Bill, which are better than what we have suggested, then our government is ready to accept them. Moreover suggestions in the interest of farmer will be accepted by our government. What is being done currently by the Opposition is just political propaganda. We are trying to ensure that farmers’ interests remain protected and excess land is not taken from them unnecessarily under the plea of future expansion.
With a united Opposition, what hopes does your party have of passing the Bill in Rajya Sabha?
In the Rajya Sabha we are in a minority. If you just go through the last three enactments – Insurance Bill, Mines and Minerals Bill and Coal Bill – they have all been cleared by the Rajya Sabha. This is because they (the Opposition) later realised that what they were doing was against the interests of the country.
At one point of time even the Congress supported the Insurance Bill. In fact, when the UPA-II held office, they were the ones going to introduce it. However, with the general elections on the horizon, they could not do so. They soon came around and did not oppose the bill. I hope that the Opposition adopts a similar spirit with the Land Bill. Once it is discussed in the Rajya Sabha, these parties will soon realise that every clause is pro-farmer. It is not at all against the interest of the farmer.
What is your take on the various Kisan rallies against the proposed new Land Bill, which are being organised across the country?
If you analyse the situation closely, the farmers are not really involved in these agitations. These are just NGOs and a few political parties. For example in Delhi, if some rally has to be successful it would be because of a crowd from Haryana, since the ‘agitators’ can bring in about one to two lakh people from there. Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal is not participating in these agitations and the Congress is not that enthusiastic in Haryana to be in the fore front, as they think Anna Hazare might take over.
I know the psyche of the farmer and they are least interested in these agitations. I must, however, admit that a very vicious propaganda is being spread against our party. Rumours are being spread that if the bill is passed, all their (farmer) land would be taken over by the government. This is absolutely incorrect. Opposition parties are least bothered about the amendments. Congress President Sonia Gandhi has said on record that they will accept nothing other than the original 2013 Act. This is pure politics and nothing else.