The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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With less than two years left in its tenure, the S.M. Krishna government in Karnataka appears to have hit an all-time low in terms of credibility and popularity. The Cauvery issue and the death of the former minister, H. Nagappa, have overshadowed claims of good governance. The “Janaspandana” programme, launched on January 14 at Genkihal, a village in Bellary, was thus an attempt not only to reach out to the rural masses, but also to boost the government’s sagging image.

This is however only one of the several initiatives taken by the Krishna government to integrate rural areas. Initiatives like these have made Krishna, like Digvijay Singh, one of the “poster-boy” chief ministers of the Congress. The Bhoomi programme — the online delivery of land records that so far has covered 6.5 million farmers in 150 taluks of the state — has been one of the biggest successes of the government. Encouraged, the government recently announced ambitious plans of implementing the concept of tele-medicine in the state in the next two years. There are also plans to establish connectivity with banks and courts for easy loans and faster disposal of justice.

Brownie points

Karnataka is one of the few states that has devolved 40 per cent of its total revenues to local bodies. Kerala is to implement the “Mysore model” — a programme of training local officials through a “two-way audio and one-way video” training programme through satellite networking. To promote decentralization and community participation, the government has also increased the annual grant to each gram panchayat from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 3.5 lakh.

More than 744 Raitha Samparka Kendras, set up under the “Raitha Mitra Yojane” scheme, provide updated information on crop production options, practices and markets, apart from aiming to change the pattern of the agricultural extension system in the state. The government also launched “Yeshasvini”, a novel health insurance scheme for farmer cooperators.

In association with the Azim Premji Foundation, the government plans to launch a series of “community learning centres”. The government has also sought Microsoft’s help to set up “smart schools” in Mandya, Gulbarga, Chitradurga, and Belgaum districts. The United Nations too hopes to finance a project in My- sore to improve the health of the mother and child in rural areas.

The flipside

Yet, rural Karnataka continues to be beset by severe constraints. Power shortages of nearly nine hours persist in rural areas and nearly 35 per cent villages have no access to telephones. For most of last year, 55 taluks mostly in south Karnataka, reeled under the impact of a severe drought. There was also a proposal to raise tariffs on water used for irrigation after more than 37 years.

The Agricultural Finance Corporation, which surveyed the state’s rural areas for the availability of clean drinking water-supplies, reported that 2,386 habitations were still not covered under any programme, while over 22,500 were only partially covered. The opposition also accused the government of failing to utilize free foodgrain given by the Centre for taking up drought relief work.

Though the government claims to have allocated nearly Rs 455 crore in the past three years for tribal welfare, tribal people have been evacuated in large numbers under the World Bank aided Nagarahole Eco-Development Project. Similarly, the Upper Krishna Project in Bagalkot has made several landless.

Last December, the state Bharatiya Janata Party launched a state-wide campaign to create public awareness about the government’s failures. Three months earlier, the Janata Dal(U) had chalked out a series of agitations, but the plan fizzled out owing to factionalism. It remains to be seen whether, in the last two years of the government’s tenure, the opposition is able to effectively cooperate to evolve a viable strategy against the Congress government.

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