The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Every political party makes commitments about rural development but these are invariably forgotten once it assumes power. It could be that the comfort of richly furnished bungalows and posh offices distance the people who govern from the poor kisans labouring in their tiny farms.

Hardly any Central or state minister takes the trouble to visit the rural areas of their constituencies. The rural populace thus continues to be deprived of basic facilities like drinking water, electricity, healthcare, education and housing. The panchayats were supposed to shape rural destinies with liberal help from the Centre and other agencies. But this dream has been largely unrealized.

In fact, several panchayats are yet to function properly. Those which exist often face severe funds crunch and most of what little money reaches them is siphoned off by members who wield influence. Only a few prominent panchayats manage to draw the attention of politicians and that too for their personal interests.

On their part, kisans often wonder why leaders visit them frequently before the elections to assure them prosperity if they are voted to power. Yet when a farmer tries to visit his leaders, he is not even allowed into their offices by peons and bodyguards.

Multiply and divide

Meanwhile, the single ministry of agriculture at the Centre has multiplied into a plethora of subordinate ministries. One wonders whether this has translated into any effective gain at the grassroots level. For the ordinary villager still remains completely confused when he has to seek the help of the government. He rarely ventures into the citadels of power where he knows he will not be entertained. Therefore, it is questionable as to who benefits from these ministries which claim a giant share of the Central exchequer by way of salary and perquisites. Quite obviously, these have been created to accommodate the growing political partnerships of the government with scarcely any regard for the cumulative cost of doing so.

While several schemes of rural development have been put into operation after the haphazard expansion of the ministry of agriculture, the reality is that hardly a small percentage of the money disbursed for these have reached the target groups.

Consolidate first

Former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in his characteristic way, had once remarked that only 10 per cent of the funds actually reach the rural areas while most of the rest get lost in the long channel of distribution. On an average, 40 per cent of the funds released by the government goes to the distributing agency, 10 per cent is spent in filling the pockets of those distantly connected with the project and only around 50 per cent reach the people.

Such a situation calls for some soul-searching. The moot question is, can the situation be improved' Can we not think of better alternatives to reach out to the target groups and eliminate the middlemen' Perhaps the government should be more serious about curbing its expansion-spree. Stringent government action is required against bureaucrats and government officials who embezzle funds. For the fear of losing whatever financial help they get from governments, non-governmental organizations often fail to report against corrupt officers. Non-governmental organizations should be more forthcoming in reporting corruption.

The best solution lies in strengthening the panchayati raj institutions which should be made solely responsible for programmes of rural development and for which they should be provided with adequate funds. Also, panchayats should be encouraged to employ experienced people to audit their accounts. Panchayat members, drawn from the rural community itself, should be trained in efficient management. Instead of expanding the ministry of agriculture, the government should thus pay more attention to consolidating the panchayat system.

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