Ministers fight over funding National Rainfed Area Authority

By Sandip Das
Published: Thursday 15 March 2007

who should fund the National Rainfed Area Authority (nraa)? The issue remained unresolved even after the first meeting of the authority ended in Delhi in January this year.

Set up in November 2006, the National Rainfed Area Authority is mandated to raise the productivity of rainfed areas. More than 60 per cent of the country's cultivable lands are rain-fed and account for around 40 per cent of total food production. The authority has to find ways to raise productivity in these areas through water harvesting and conservation. The recent meeting was to discuss several important issues such as artificial recharge of groundwater and renovation of existing water bodies, and taking up watershed management in forest areas. However, they could not be taken up and the meeting ended in serious disagreement over funding.

The issue sparked a verbal duel between Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and Union rural development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, who are the chairperson and co-chairperson of the authority.

Pawar, whose ministry has jurisdiction over nraa, suggested that the authority should be funded under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (nrega), since water conservation is a focus area for both the programmes. Of the nine 'preferred works' under nrega, seven are related to it.

However, Singh, whose ministry runs schemes under nrega, rejected the suggestion. He contended that the main objective of nrega was to generate employment and he could not divert funds for works under other schemes. Singh agreed, however, that the labour components of work related to water conservation in rainfed areas could be funded under nrega. He mooted additional funds in the budget for irrigation and asset-building in rainfed areas.

In its April 2006 report, the technical committee on the watershed programme set up by the Union ministry of rural development (mord), the Parthasarathy committee, had suggested that the government would have to spend Rs 10,000 crore annually till 2020 to develop watersheds in rainfed areas. Of this, Rs 5,000 crore should be earmarked by nrega to fund the labour components of all watershed works in rainfed areas, it added.
War of words According to people present at the meeting, the heated argument between the two ministers went on for hours, but failed to be resolved. Officials from both the ministries (including Subas Pani, secretary, mrd) refused to comment. A press release issued by the agriculture ministry, however, noted "The governing board considered and discussed effective utilisation of the resources under nregs in rainfed areas."

Critics trace the genesis of the tussle to the formation of nraa. After the prime minister declared that the authority would be set up, in November 2005, both the rural development and agriculture ministries wanted it under their control. The prime minister had to form a group of ministers (gom) in August 2006 to decide who should control it. The gom decided that control would rest with the agriculture ministry but the rural development minister would be the co-chairperson.

With important issues unresolved, the only decisions the meeting took was to ask the Planning Commission to organise a workshop on the implementation and impacts of watershed development in rainfed areas and decide to appoint a chief executive officer. nraa is without a chief executive officer and the mandated five technical experts.

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