In his one week as union minister, Gopinath Munde had set out among his priorities water supply and toilet facilities for the rural poor, the latter a need brought into focus by the rape and murder of two girls in Badaun.
The evening before he died, he had summoned the secretaries for rural development, panchayati raj, drinking water and sanitation and land and discussed what could be a 100-day roadmap for his ministries. Munde, who hailed from water-starved Marathwada, is learnt to have highlighted sustainable supply of drinking water as a priority when the council of ministers met later Monday evening. A seminar with water experts nationwide was being planned on June 13.
At the ministers’ meeting, Munde sat next to Ram Vilas Paswan and discussed plans to draw up five-year schemes for a home and toilets for all villagers. Paswan had visited the family of the Badaun victims and told Munde about the lack of toilet facilities.
“Munde said his ministry could work on a scheme for dignified sanitation facilities for the rural poor,” Paswan recalled. “He said, let me get settled and in about 10-15 days, let us all meet to draw up a plan. He said since he had risen by serving the rural poor, it was his job to do something for rural India.”
Paswan also recalled he had requested Munde’s presence in a meeting to discuss pending dues of sugarcane farmers.
Munde had planned to return to Mumbai that very night but rescheduled the trip as the meeting went on until late.
In the morning, a member of his office staff waited at the airport with the boarding pass to seat 1A on Jet Airways’ 7:05 am flight. After the accident, the staff member cancelled the ticket and rushed to the hospital, while colleagues rushed to the ministry to attend phone calls. Senior officials, including secretary L C Goyal, reached the hospital.
Over the week, Munde had held a review meeting each on NREGA and PMGSY, besides a meeting of the Department of Land Resources. For NREGA, he had emphasised penalties for delayed wages and creation of sustainable assets. He had suggested “village planning” by focusing welfare schemes on least developed villages.
While taking charge last week, Munde had appreciated NREGA and other schemes initiated by the previous government. Expressing his grief, his predecessor Jairam Ramesh recalled, “I met him recently and he was fully supportive of the initiatives taken earlier in the ministry… He told me he would take them forward, expand on them.”
The ministry held a condolence meeting at Krishi Bhawan. Staff remembered a “soft-spoken man” who had made few demands. The cabin he occupied lay in darkness.