Gopinath Munde has the ministerial charge of rural development (plus the previously separate charge of drinking water and sanitation) and panchayati raj. He tells Sanjeeb Mukherjee there'll be no repeal of the controversial land acquisition law but implementation will be eased. So, too, for the rural job guarantee scheme. Edited excerpts:
The new Land Acquisition Act has been an important and controversial law from the previous government. How does your government want to go about it?
It has been passed by Parliament, but the rules have been framed in a way that implementation is difficult. There is no question of repealing the Act, as we supported it in Parliament; it is a good law. I have taken up the Act as my first issue with officials in this ministry. There are a couple of issues - the legal recourse part needs a re-look and, second, many times compensation is paid to farmers but it never reaches them. I must say I agree with the rates of compensation in the Act.
So, how are you going to approach issues related to important laws like this one and MGNREGA, the rural job guarantee?
Simply blaming the previous government or investigating what went wrong will not be of any benefit. In the land Act, the execution of rules in this important legislation should not be a burden. The challenge is how to ease it. It is a good law and I support it but will try to change its implementation flaws.
In the case of MGNREGA, there have been complaints over delayed payments, inadequate work and poor quality of work.
The main focus of the three different ministries which are now under my single charge will be on developing the villages, with an emphasis on job generation. In the case of MGNREGA, we will ensure it reaches even those habitations with a population less than 200. Also, as the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana now comes under me, I will integrate the two and build rural ring roads, on the lines of cities, with MGNREGA and also help create boundaries on farm lands.
Non-payment of the allowance under MGNREGA has been a big issue. How do you plan to address that?
We will introduce a system of weekly payment under MGNREGA and monitor this on a monthly basis. There are a lot of funds under MGNREGA unutilised with the (district) collectors. I will soon write letters to all state governments to ensure funds allocated under MGNREGA are properly utilised; else, penal action can be taken. Eliminating corruption and ensuring timely payment will be my top priorities for this scheme.
In many parts of India, the problem of Maoism exists due to under-development. The ministries under you can play a vital role in ensuring their development. How do you plan to go about it?
First, I don't call these Maoist-affected districts. They are under-developed districts, numbering around 250. We will give top priority to these districts and ensure a major part of the Budget allocation is spent on them.
You also hold the charge of drinking water & sanitation and panchayati raj. Your plans for these?
In sanitation, a key item for our government is ensuring toilets for women. We will increase the fund allocated for construction of individual toilets. Also, we are planning introduce community toilets made of steel, easily movable. For watershed management, the World Bank gives assistance for construction of check dams, etc; we plan to use that programme. Also, I have already spoken to the new power minister on how to re-utilise waste water and drain water for generating electricity. In panchayati raj, the emphasis will be monitoring the funds allocated to panchayats.