By Yashwant Sinha
The government announced this Thursday that it would spend Rs.50,000 crore over the next five years under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY).
When I had announced the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) in the 2000 Budget, it turned out to be a big success. The scheme not only survived the change of government in 2004, but it even flourished under the UPA. It remains an important scheme of the present government.
During the earlier NDA rule under prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, we had also started a national mission for watershed development. This was to enhance irrigation facilities in rural areas. Post-2004, it had not made the kind of progress we had expected. So soon thereafter, especially after 2009, I started talking about a PMKSY in my constituency and elsewhere on the lines of the PMGSY.
Less than half of India’s arable land gets assured irrigation. The rest depends on rains, and the entire economy is adversely affected if monsoon rains are inadequate. Historically, this did not receive the attention it deserved.
In Independent India, we laid emphasis on large irrigation projects and dams. Small and medium irrigation projects were the responsibility of state governments and were neglected because of paucity of funds. So like all things rural, irrigation also received scant attention.
The PMGSY was a central scheme, but it was designed differently from the others. It was to be fully financed by the Centre. GoI would also supervise and monitor it. Model schemes were prepared for different kinds of terrain. Quality standards were strictly laid down. State governments were required to prepare the estimates and send them for technical vetting by the ministry of rural development.
After the project was technically approved, state governments were required to invite tenders. The bids were finalised by the Centre in consultation with the states. A strict system of supervision was put in place both during construction and after the completion of work. The contractor was required to maintain the road over the next five years.
The states did not object to this arrangement as GoI was paying the total cost of the project. There was no question of diversion of funds by the state. The five-year maintenance clause imposed strict discipline on the contractor for quality.
Thousands of kilometres of firstrate rural roads have been constructed all over the country during the last 15 years under this PMGSY. Its success convinced me that the PMKSY could be equally successful if properly designed.
I was included in the manifesto committee of the BJP. After the PMKSY was initially omitted in the draft manifesto, the scheme was included in the final version of the BJP manifesto. When Narendra Modi came to Hazaribagh to campaign for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, we mentioned the PMKSY in our speeches, assuring crowds that water would reach farmers’ fields when the BJP came to power.
Which is why I was disappointed when finance minister Arun Jaitley mentioned the PMKSY but provided only Rs.1,000 crore for it in his first Budget. I kept pressing the PM and the FM for a larger allocation. Jaitley even asked me for a note informally when he was preparing this year’s Budget, which I promptly sent. But I was disappointed once again. Jaitley had bunched all the central irrigation schemes together and provided only Rs.5,300 crore for all of them. My note of December 2015 to him had suggested the following:
-The PMKSY should cover only medium and minor irrigation schemes. Large irrigation schemes should be dealt with separately.
-All irrigation schemes run by GoI and spread over various ministries should be brought under one nodal ministry of water resources.
-The model of the PMGSY should generally be followed in the PMKSY. Which meant state governments selecting the schemes, preparing the technical feasibility reports and cost estimates and referring them to the Centre for approval. The execution of the work should be done under the supervision of local bodies. Central agencies should monitor them.
-GoI should fully finance these schemes and should reserve the right for complete monitoring.
A system of rewards and punishments should be worked out in which good work is incentivised and defective work and corruption punished.
-The scheme’s post-construction management should be handed over to a pani panchayat, a committee of beneficiaries. Maintenance, collection of water charges, regulation of supplies, etc. should be its responsibility.
-Fund allocation states should be based on needs and demand. Dedicated electricity feeders should be provided for these schemes wherever needed.
A sum of at least Rs.25,000 crore should be set aside under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and another Rs.25,000 crore from the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) to meet the cost of these irrigation schemes on an annual basis. Rs.50,000 crore a year will make a difference. The Rs.10,000 crore a year, as announced by the government for the PMKSY earlier this week, will not.
I hope the government will consider my suggestions favourably even at this late stage.
The writer is a former Union finance minister