Two days after taking charge as the Union Minister for Rural Development, Gopinath Munde discusses his priorities with Ruhi Tewari and Ravish Tiwari
What are the main challenges before you and the ministry?
The main challenge is this is a very big country with more than six lakh villages — and 70 per cent of the population live in villages. I believe the country cannot progress if villages don’t progress. That is why Prime Minister Narendra Modiji has always talked of progress in villages, including in the areas of sanitation, drinking water, employment and roads. And it is the rural development ministry that is in charge of all these tasks. Related departments too have been linked to it — drinking water, sanitation and panchayati raj.
Your ministry’s budget also becomes one of the highest. How will you prioritise spending?
The budget is undoubtedly huge but it is has three main components — MGNREGS, PMGSY and drinking water. Implementation has to be perfect. In MGNREGS, workers don’t get paid on time. I will try to ensure workers are paid every seven days. We will ask state governments for lists every month about wages delayed and the reasons. All these schemes were made 10 to 15 years ago but the needs of villages today are different. So we will study today’s needs and make additions for what else needs to be done.
What steps will you take to ensure timely wages?
The Centre’s job is to allocate funds, but the implementation of schemes is with the states. If they are taking central funds but not making payments on time, it is wrong. What we will do is make sure states where there is a delay in wage payments don’t get subsequent instalments of funds. Once we do that, they will be forced to comply.
MGNREGA has often been criticised because the assets created are not sustainable. How do you plan to address that?
My emphasis will be to ensure assets are created for the villages’ development and MGNREGA money is used for that.
The Land Acquisition Act passed last year has worried sections of the industry about how cumbersome the process has become.
The law has been made. It is a good Bill and the BJP wanted it. Some people believe acquisition will take time… There are two things, compensation and rehabilitation of farmers. There will be no change in these. We have to study the issue and listen to those who have made presentations [from industry] and then see what is to be done.
Your predecessor used to say rural development would be used to tackle Naxalism.
I don’t want to categorise these districts as “Naxal” districts; they are undeveloped areas. It is because they are undeveloped that Naxalism spread there. I too want to give priority to undeveloped districts.
What new policy initiatives are you planning?
Several schemes are now 10 to 15 years old. My main aim is to make them perfect. We will make additions to existing schemes. For instance, the Indira Awas Yojana is for SC/ST and BPL households; we will [include] migrant households/nomadic tribes too.
What are your three main priority areas?
The first priority is timely payment of wages under MGNREGA. The second is to ensure assets are created for villages using MGNREGA. The third is drinking water, for which the agency is zilla parishad, not even state. Eighty per cent of schemes in this are not being completed. We will look for reasons. What is the point if there is money for water but people don’t get water? We will make efforts not just to provide water but also to provide clean water.
Do you think the BJP should project a CM candidate in Maharashtra?
It is too early… Parties that contested the Lok Sabha elections will contest the assembly elections in alliance. The CM candidate, if any, will be the alliance’s CM candidate.