`Give freedom to states in use of rural funds`

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has made a strong pitch for flexibility in use of funds under his ministry.

Thiruvananthapuram: Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has made a strong pitch for flexibility in use of funds under his ministry and suggested to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that 50 percent of his ministry`s annual allocation be given to states as flexi-funds by the end of 12th Plan.

The minister, who was in Kerala on a three-day visit, called for a change in architecture of rural development programmes so that better developed states reap as much benefit as those lower on the development parameters.

"There is a need of fundamental shift… The ultimate answer is to give more freedom to states. The norms are decided in Delhi. My suggestion to prime minister and finance minister is that by the end of 12th Five Year Plan, 50 percent of rural development funds should be given to states," the minister said.

Ramesh said that rural development programmes did not have "built-in flexibility" and were "too rigid".

He said that rural development schemes were focused more on states that were backward and did not reflect the needs of states like Kerala which has high literacy and effective grassroots organisations.

"That`s why give more flexibility. States should be given flexibility in government schemes… We are prisoner of national guidelines," he said, adding that states should have freedom to spend on sectors according to their priority.

The rural development ministry, which monitors some key flagship schemes of United Progressive Alliance Government (UPA), pumps in around Rs 90,000 crore every year in rural development schemes.

The demand for greater flexibility in rural schemes also came from Kerala Rural Development Minister KC Joseph who met Ramesh and participated with him at a Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) meet in Alapuezha district.

Joseph demanded that coir industry in the state should be included in MGNREGA and working hours under the scheme should be 9 am to 4 pm as there is high participation of women.

Ramesh said his ministry was trying to bring about greater flexibility in rural schemes in states like Kerala, Punjab and Goa which were relatively more advanced in rural development.

"My serious suggestion is that by 2017, 50 percent of all rural funds must be given to state governments," Ramesh said.

He said the Planning Commission was on board his suggestion of giving greater flexibility to states in use of funds. He said the practice of rural development programmes with national norms should be changed.

Citing instance of Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), a scheme for rural roads monitored by his ministry, Ramesh said there should be state specific programmes under a broad national programme.

"Why one PMGSY which is employed universally," Ramesh said.


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