Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Aanekere waiting for facelift

Kushalnagar, Jul 21, 2012, DHNS :

Several tanks which were once a source of water, has been suffering from encroachment and has been entering the pages of history.

Tanks were sources of water irrigating acres of fertile land. As the forest started depleting, the water-level in tanks too started decreasing. An historic Aanekere near Chikkathoor-Basavathoor in Koodumangalur Gram Panchayat limits is a mute spectator to the encroachment.

All the villagers should join hands with each other to give a facelift to this tank.
In the past, the tank was irrigating Koodige farm to grow various crops. After the borewells were drilled in the farm, the use of water from the tank was stopped. As the area of the tank was encroached, the water-level too started declining.

With the increase in silt, the storage capacity of the tank has declined. The ground water table of the tank too has declined.

The tank was providing drinking water to elephants four to five decades ago. Owing to encroachment, the area covering the tank has declined.

The bamboo were grown on the periphery of the tank. As a result, elephants were depending on the tank for water in the past. The area of the tank was 18 acre five decades ago. Now agriculture activities have been taken up in the encroached area of the tank, alleged villagers.

“Owing to the negligence of the revenue and minor irrigation department, the area of the tank has been encroached. The work on dredging should be taken up at the earliest, to conserve water in the tank. The gram panchayat has failed to maintain the tank,” said Nagarika Hitharakshana Vedike senior leader C V Nagesh.

If the tank is developed, then it will increase the water-level in wells and other water bodies in the vicinty. Boating facility can be introduced in the tank to promote tourism, he aadded.

The encroached area of the tank should be reclaimed and there is a need to rejuvenate the tank, said the villagers.

Zilla Panchayat and Minor Irrigation department had constructed retaining wall around the tank. However, it has not taken up the work on dredging.

The tank was irrigating the farm land in the region. With the encroachment of the land, it has affected agriculture activities as well, said K Subbanna.

The gram panchayat should have will power to develop the tank. The revenue officials should initiate stern action against the encroachers.

Koodumangaloor Gram Panchayat President Hemavathi said that the decision on developing the tank will be taken up after holding discussion with the gram panchayat members.

Copyright 2008, The Printers (Mysore) Private Ltd.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Call to empower communities to protect village commons


Thiruvananthapuram: Village communities will be better equipped to protect local resources than the government or panchayats, Director-General of the Administrative Staff College of India S.K. Rao has said.

Talking to The Hindu on the sidelines of a workshop organised by ASCI and the Institute of Management in Government, he said the concept of village commons was highly relevant in the context of the rising trend of land grab across the country. He said it was time to revive the old village-level community process of protecting common resources like trees, village grazing lands or water bodies.

“When you transfer the power for protection of village commons to political bodies like the government or panchayats, you lose that ability to control local situations. No measure should be taken unless 80 to 85 per cent of citizens directly vote in favour. That way you cannot take decisions without the larger consent,” he said.

Dr. Rao said the village community as a whole should be trusted. “In some villages, people are sharply polarised, but when it comes to local issues and when people see that there is some good in protecting village commons, people would not do things which would mean that the village loses a valuable resource like village tanks or grazing land.”

Highlighting the importance of localising the process for protection of village commons, he said, “do not say it is the responsibility of the State government. To them, it does not matter if one village common is lost if someone makes a profit out of it. They want political funding.”

Dr. Rao said: “In olden days, take for example a village tank, the boundaries are recognised, you cannot encroach upon it. The village community will be watching. It is time to revive the system.”

Asked about the institutional mechanism required for protection of village commons, he proposed the constitution of a non political trust for the purpose. The trust, he said, could comprise eminent citizens. There could also be a council of elders at the taluk level, he said.

“These things do not happen just by thinking of some smart solution like in physics. There should be a will for people to do something positive.” Dr. Rao said the community governance system in some North Eastern States such as Nagaland could be a good example.

Copyright © 2012, The Hindu

Friday, July 20, 2012

Government will reclaim encroached village lands to set up schools

Ambika Pandit, TNN | Jul 20, 2012, 01.50AM IST

NEW DELHI: As part of a major drive, the Delhi government's revenue department will step up action to free large tracts of gram sabha land from the clutches of encroachers. The reclaimed land will be allotted to the education department for setting up of schools so that the RTE Act can be implemented in its true spirit. The drive will cover all nine districts.

Reeling under a shortage of schools for decades, villages like Dindarpur in Najafgarh are a telling example of how encroachments have deprived children of education, and residents of basic facilities like dispensaries and maternity homes. TOI visited Dindarpur to take a look at the ground reality.

As one enters the area, a red school building with a sprawling playground can be seen on one side of Jhatikra intersection. A board hangs outside saying this government school for boys was inaugurated a fortnight ago. Once you're inside the premises, you find out that this used to be private school which came up on gram sabha land over a decade ago. A legal battle followed as the Dindarpur Gram Sudhar Samiti fought to get the land back from the encroachers. The row ended only with the intervention of the Supreme Court in 2011 when all states were directed to remove illegal constructions from gram sabha land. The revenue department issued eviction orders but when authorities failed to abide by the directive, the school was sealed and handed over to the Delhi government's education department in March.

Sub-divisional magistrate (Najafgarh), Krishna Mohan Uppu, said, "To ensure that the infrastructure is not wasted, the school was allotted to the education department. In two other such cases, gram sabha land has been allotted to schools. In one case, an ice factory was shut down to make way for a school since schools are needed to meet requirements of the RTE Act," Uppu said.

Till the school at Jhatikra intersection was handed over to the government, children of Dindarpur had no choice but to study in a crammed school on an adjacent road. "The new school has provided much relief. It has more than 1,000 boys on the rolls. The education department has planned a new block to accommodate more students," said Dindarpur Gram Sudhar Samiti member Deen Dayal. Another Samiti member Satbir Singh said that both his sons have joined the new school which is expected to cater to nearly 20 unauthorized colonies in Dindarpur.

Delhi's revenue secretary and divisional commissioner Vijay Dev says that strict action will be taken to free more gram sabha land. "The Supreme Court directive will be implemented aggressively. All nine districts have been asked to identify Gram Sabha land under encroachment and lying vacant. The reclaimed land will first be allotted for schools so that the RTE Act can be fully implemented. Health facilities are our next priority," Dev said. The surveys have already been completed in northwest and northeast districts.

Copyright © 2012 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fish culture comes to the rescue of dying water bodies

Ruhi Bhasin : New Delhi, Fri Jul 13 2012, 00:50 hrs

As dismal as their condition has been, the ponds in Delhi could soon get a new lease of life — in the form of fish culture. Delhi government’s ambitious plan to allow fish culture in water bodies is finally taking off.

According to officials, around 24 water bodies in Northwest Delhi have been identified for the purpose. These ponds will be auctioned after the monsoon. The water bodies will be used to promote fish culture, fishing, production of fish and fish seeds (fertilised fish eggs).

The water bodies have been identified in villages such as Auchandi, Boodhanpur Majra, Bawana, Qutub Garh, Khera Kalan, Naya Bhans, Ibrahimpur, Karala, etc. These ponds have an area of about 1 acre to 3.5 acres each. “We plan to auction ponds in Northwest Delhi after monsoon. A proper survey was done to ensure that these ponds were fit for fish culture. A committee has also been formed to auction off these ponds. Either it will be an open auction or sealed bids will be invited,’’ said a senior government official.

The committee comprises deputy commissioners of respective districts, director of animal husbandry unit (Development department), a fish culture expert, a water quality expert of Delhi Pollution Control Committee, area deputy conservator of forests, director (Panchayat) and divisional commissioner.

A total of 477 water bodies were initially identified across the city for the fish culture project. The project will be implemented in other water bodies depending on how successful it is in the ponds in Northwest Delhi, said officials.

Officials said the move is aimed at creating a means of livelihood for villagers, ensuring proper maintenance of ponds and also preventing encroachment on groundwater recharge structures. The Revenue department, which owns the 24 water bodies, said fish culture was part of a series of projects to be taken up for restoring water bodies. The move follows a Delhi High Court directive, in 2000, to augment Delhi’s groundwater sources.

The Forest department and Horticulture unit of Development department will have the task of ensuring sufficient greenery around the water bodies. The greenery is essential to ensure that there is enough oxygen and plankton for fish to feed on. The Delhi Jal Board will have to ensure that there is no sewage flow into these ponds from adjoining villages, said officials. This project has got the approval from the L-G’s office.

“Once the ponds are auctioned, the licensee will be authorised to use the water bodies only for fish culture, fishing, production of fish and fish seeds of culturable varieties. Culture of African magur (Clarias gariepinus) is prohibited, as they are carnivorous and will feed on other fish varieties,’’ said an official.

“The bidder will have to deposit an amount of Rs 10,000 or 5 per cent of the estimated value — whichever is higher — as earnest money. As per the guidelines, fishing can be done by net or rod and line only. Precaution should be taken for timely removal of weeds, maintenance of water pH, optimum nutrition to fish and that fish is caught without resorting to blasts or use of chemicals,’’ said the official.

The licence will be issued for a year and the fish farmer cannot prevent domestic animals from drinking water from of the pond. No modification in the existing structure of the water body would be made, and any activity not in conformity with the existing/future laws of environment would not be permitted.

© 2012 The Indian Express Limited. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

HC stays construction work on Shamlat land given to Vinod Sharma

TNN Jul 12, 2012, 06.48AM IST

CHANDIGARH: Eighteen years after Congress leader and Ambala MLA Vinod Sharma had got 168 acres of Shamlat land in Bhadso village of Karnal district, the Punjab and Haryana high court has put a stay on construction activities in 100 acres of this land for allegedly violating the terms of agreement.

Haryana government had allegedly acquired the land for Sharma in 1994. The land has allegedly been used for agricultural and personal purposes by Sharma in violation of the terms of agreement between the village panchayat and the MLA.

The orders were passed on Wednesday by a division bench of Justice Hemant Gupta of the HC while hearing a petition filed by some members of Bhadso village panchayat.

In its orders, Justice Gupta restrained Sharma from making any change in the nature of land use in question. The bench also issued notice to Haryana government, Piccadily Agro Industries, financial commissioner (revenue) and director panchayat, Haryana to file their response in the matter.

The petitioners informed the court that in 1994, Sharma allegedly used his position to acquire around 168 acres of Shamlat land (village common land) by suspending the then village sarpanch Jasmer Singh, who had refused to transfer the said land in favour of Sharma.

The land was transferred within a few days by appointing an acting sarpanch with the intervention of local administration for setting up a sugar mill on that land, the petitioners said. At present, Sharma has set up a sugar mill called Piccadily Agro Industries on this land.

The petitioners alleged that Sharma has used only 40% of the said land and used the remaining land for agricultural and personal purposes, which is a misuse of Shamlat land.

Demanding restoration of the said land to village panchayat, the petitioner sought the quashing of land transfer because the same has been got transferred for personal aggrandizement, at the cost of village community and in active connivance of Haryana government by allegedly misusing power and position by Venod Sharma.

Directions has also been sought to hand over possession of the entire unutilized vacant land being used by Sharma as agricultural/farm house. The case would now come up for further hearing on August 29.

© 2012 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NMC finally 'notices' illegal religious structures at Sonegaon

NAGPUR: Most people will agree that encroachers have no religion. However, the same people may be less sure when asked to comment on religious structures encroaching upon the city's public utility land.
Despite several Supreme Court and high court orders against encroachments, there is no respite from such religious structures. NMC records say that there are 315 religious and 848 non-religious illegal structures, giving ample testimony to the lackadaisical attitude regarding such encroachments. And surprisingly, more such structures continue to come up.

Two such illegal religious structures have come up on the banks of Sonegaon Lake near HB Estate Colony. One is a Buddha Vihar while the other is a Goddess Durga temple.

Residents of HB Estate Colony, Swawlambi Nagar and Sonegaon Lake said that some months back a few residents had performed a puja and constructed the temple. Recently, during Navratri, an idol was also installed on the structure in around 1,000 sq ft land.

With NMC's Laxmi Nagar zone remaining a silent spectator to the encroachment, a Buddha Vihar also came up on the banks of the temple recently. The Buddha Vihar has also obtained electric supply from MSEDCL. It has erected a board and claims to have started a clinic for poor people and a library for residents.

Those involved in building and/or running both religious structures refused to comment for this article.

A group of residents said on condition of anonymity that both police and corporation officials are doing nothing despite being empowered to act against illegal encroachments.

"Both civic body and city cops can initiate action under Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act, 1966; City of Nagpur Corporation Act, 1948; Indian Penal Code, and Bombay Police Act," said residents.

Now, Laxmi Nagar zone has finally woken up from its slumber. Assistant municipal commissioner (Laxmi Nagar zone) SM Jaidev said they have served notices to both illegal structures. He said both will be razed soon.

The NMC, however, failed to give a convincing reply when asked why and how these structures came up in the first place?

"Staffers refuse to remove illegal structures as representatives from these religious structures not only use foul language but also threaten them with dire consequences," claimed an NMC officer. "They also warned that if we demolished these structures it would trigger communal tension," he added.

Copyright © 2012 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Panel finds encroachments in catchment areas of most water bodies

TNN Jul 14, 2012, 03.35AM IST

JAIPUR : A two-member monitoring committee comprising senior advocate Virendra Dangi and advocate A K Bhargav on Friday submitted before the high court a detailed report relating to the encroachments in the catchment areas of Bisalpur dam, Anasagar and Faye Sagar of Ajmer, Kalakh dam of Jobner.

According to the report, there is no encroachment only in the catchment area of Bisalpur dam though the committee found a large number of anicuts but all of them were below the prescribed height of two meters. A large number of plantation was also found in the area.

In Ajmer, the committee found sprawling slums in the catchment areas of Anasagar and even a mall was found constructed in the catchment bed. The committee also found encroachment in the dam area in Jobner near Jaipur.

During their visit to Ramghar Dam, the panel members found illegal excavation of sand from the dried water bed. They asked the authorities to register an FIR against two tractor owners who were found taking sand from the dam water bed.

Virendra Dangi, senior member of monitoring committee, brought it to the notice of the court that while hearing a suo motu petition on encroachment in the catchment of Ramgarh dam, it has been found that not only allotments have been made but also encroachments have been regularized despite implementation of Section 16 of Rajasthan Tenancy Act, 1955 which bars allotment of any land of water bodies to any private persons.

The government had claimed that a large number of allotments made in such areas have been cancelled and a reference for cancellation has been made to the revenue board of Ajmer. On Friday, Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari asked the state government to file the details of the reference made to Revenue Board for cancellation of such allotments by July 30.

© 2012 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved

Friday, July 13, 2012

29,909 acres of land encroached in Mandya district

Mandya, Jul 12, 2012, DHNS:

Maddur taluk has witnessed highest encroachment

Land mafia is ruling the roost across the state and about 29,909 acres of government land that has been allegedly encroached in the district has come as a shocker for the residents of Mandya.

Among 1,44,273 acre of government land available in district, 32,718 acre is encroached.

The district administration has till now cleared just 2,808 acre. Government land worth crores is encroached by many and is cultivated on which authorities have turned a blind eye which is proved by the limping clearance works and no action against tresspassers is taken.

Maddur taluk has witnessed highest encroachment of 7,919 acre while the largest taluk Nagamangala has 362 acre of land encroached.

Gundu topu, school premises, graveyard, roads, ponds, land reserved for public purpose and even forest land has been encroached.

In Mandya taluk, 6,408 acre, 2,307 acre in Malavalli, 3,397 acre in Srirangapatna, 3,193 acre in Pandavapura and 6,321.14 acre in K R Pet is encroached.

For the reasons unknown the clearance work is going on slow. Not more than 10 or 15 acres of encroached land is cleared per month. Only 9.30 acre of land is cleared in May 2012 while there is no much progress in other taluks.

Task force to conserve government land formed in September 2009 led by former secretary V Balasubramanyan identified the land encroached and launched the clearance works.

Form 50-53
The authorities have received many forms of 50-53 to legalise 17,868.30 acre of land belonging to government which was cultivated illegally before 1998.

2980.25 acre in Mandya taluk, 5483.11 acre in Maddur, 426.03 acre in Malavalli, 2,942 acre in Srirangapatna, 141.02 acre in Nagamangala, 1944 acre in Pandavapura and 3,938.02 acre in K R Pet has to be dispatched under the form.

Land surveyors
Though posts for 100 land surveyors is sanctioned for district, only 76 is filled, who are forced to perform multi-task of handling record room, collection of documents, integrated mutation and others along with their part of work.

It is not only the lack of staff that is hindering the works but district also lacks total station equipment which measure the land accurately.

Officials say two equipment are borrowed to serve the purpose.

While another official says sufficient amount of money is not alloted for clearance works.

Copyright 2008, The Printers (Mysore) Private Ltd.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ropar admin removes shamlat land encroachment

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 – 23:15
By Bahadurjit Singh

ROPAR: Ropar Administration finally swung in to action and removed the encroachment from the about 21 acre Shamlat land of the village Phool Khurd near Ropar today and handed over the possession of the same to the Gram Panchayat amidst tight security arrangements.

The officials of the administration led by Block Development and Panchayat Officer (BDPO) Roop Singh and Tehsildar Maj. G.S.Benipal arrived at the spot this afternoon to complete the process of taking back the possession of the land from the encroachers.

A heavy police force led by SP(D) Ropar Raminder Singh and DSPs Harbir Singh Atwal,Satnam Singh was present on the occasion to maintain law and order situation.

It may be mentioned that earlier the about 21 acres of shamlat land of the village had been encroached upon by four brothers of the village for the last several years and they had lost various courts cases filed regarding the land.

The administration was to remove the encroachment on July 5. However, it failed to do so on that day, which has caused resentment among the Panchayat members of the village.

Accusing the administration of adopting dilly dallying tactics over the issue, the Panchayat members had threatened to resign from their posts if the encroachment was not removed by July 11. The administration finally completed the process of removal of encroachment from the land and getting back the possession of the encroached land by leveling the standing crops in the land and installing boundary pillars.

The village Sarpanch Dharampal has expressed his satisfaction over removal of encroachment from the land and getting back the possession of the land. However, one of the encroachers' son Amritpal strongly opposed the action of the administration saying that no prior notice was issued
to them in this regard.

Punjab Newsline Network

Copyright � 2012 AA Newsline Pvt Ltd All Rights

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Digital mapping to check encroachment in Punjab villages

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 – 17:45

CHANDIGARH: The Punjab government today approved the major initiative of digitally mapping of all villages of Punjab in collaboration with Remote Sensing department of Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana. Punjab would be the first state in the Country to initiate digital mapping of all 12,000 plus villages in the state.

Disclosing this here today Surjit Singh Rakhra, Rural Development & Panchayat Minister said that he has approved this major exercise to get a detailed view of all villages through satellite imaging and by digital mapping, the department would be able to have clear pictorial view of location and measurement of village common land, the extent of encroachment on these lands, the common facilities available in all villages, road network and other requirements of villages.

Emphasizing on the upkeep and maintenance of infrastructure of rural areas, Rakhra said that with the digital mapping of the villages we would be able to monitor the requirement of every village sitting at headquarter. He said that SAD-BJP government was committed to provide world class infrastructure in all villages and this exercise was first step in this direction.

Copyright � 2012 AA Newsline Pvt Ltd All Rights

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

‘Evict encroachers of village community land’

Bangalore, July 5, 2012, DHNS

The National Committee for Protection of Natural Resources (NCPNR) founder-president S R Hiremath, on Thursday urged the State government to immediately implement the Supreme Court direction on transfer of village community land.

On February 1, 2011, the Supreme Court had declared transfer of village community land for private and commercial use as illegal and directed the states to take immediate steps to evict encroachers.

However, the State government has done nothing in this regard.” The Supreme Court had directed state governments to prepare schemes for eviction of illegal occupants of village community land and restore it back for the purpose it was meant for and had observed that such schemes must provide for speedy eviction so that a logical end is achieved.

A Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra had said: “Long duration of illegal occupation or expenditure on construction or even political connections must not be treated as a justification for condoning this illegal act or for regularising the illegal possession.”

The Bench, noting that in many states, the governments themselves have issued orders permitting allotment of gram sabha land to private persons and commercial enterprises on payment of some money, said even such orders are “illegal”.

Hiremath, while accusing the government of inaction, said that his organisation will take the matter up in a big way if the government does not act on the SC direction.

Campaign against the corrupt
NCPNR, Jan Sangram Parishad (JSP) and Gram Ganarajya Vedike (GGV), who have been running a campaign against illegal mining and related matters, have planned a nation-wide campaign (in select places of eight states) on the anniversary of ‘Quit India Day’.

The campaign will focus on ‘community control over natural resources: water, forest, land, minerals and seeds’ and is aimed at removing corrupt people from society so that natural resources can be protected. 

Copyright 2008, The Printers (Mysore) Private Ltd.

Monday, July 9, 2012

150 acres shamlat land ‘mutated’ for ex-DGP

Mohali DC Varun Roojam submits probe report to Punjab FCR N S Kang

An inquiry conducted by the Mohali deputy commissioner has found that 150 acres of village common land (shamlat) worth crores of rupees in village Saini Majra near here was mutated in favour of former Punjab DGP P S Gill by the naib tehsildar of Majri block. The report, submitted by Mohali DC Varun Roojam to the Punjab financial commissioner revenue (FCR), also states that the naib tehsildar could not have mutated the land in any private individual’s name. FCR N S Kang has recommended the suspension of the naib tehsildar, Rupinder Mankoo, to the revenue minister on the basis of the report.

It has, however, not been established in the report if the former DGP knew that the land he was getting mutated in his favour was indeed shamlat land or not. It has also not been made clear in the report if any other culpable offense has been committed by the former DGP in the case.

The matter came to light when over a dozen men, led by the former DGP, had tried to establish their possession over this land on May 13. The group of men, some of them in Punjab Police commando uniforms, barricaded entry to the land and razed the boundary wall to the ground. The former DGP was on the spot when the entire exercise was carried out.

While Gill had managed to get the land mutated in his name early this year, Yudhvir Singh and one Daljit Singh Dogra too claimed ownership of the shamlat land and had got the boundary wall constructed. The police later booked two of these persons – Jodh Singh and Khazaan Singh — on the complaint of Yudhvir Singh.

Though the DC’s report mentions that an FIR has been lodged in the case following a dispute over the ownership of the land, the involvement of the former DGP in the dispute has not been established.

Revenue Department sources pointed out that this 157-acre land, in illegal occupation of Dogra, was actually shamlat deh and part of the gairmumkin choe. It belonged neither to Dogra nor to the ex-top cop. The report has now recommended that the land be given back to the village panchayat.

The matter was also discussed during the SSP’s meeting with Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on May 14, following which an inquiry was marked to the FCR into the matter.

Revenue Minister Bikramjit Singh Majithia is now expected to look into the report for further action.

All material herein © 2006 – 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Punjab Guv refuses to sign land ordinance

Chitleen K Sethi : Mohali, Thu Jul 05 2012, 03:38 hrs

Despite Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s claims of being the saviour of village common land (shamlat) in the state, it is Governor Shivraj Patil who has come to its rescue.

In an almost back-door move, the state government reportedly tried to amend the Punjab Village Common Lands Regulation Act, 1961 by deleting a vital clause that limited the sale and use of shamlat land in the state. The amendment was proposed to be rushed through as an ordinance and was sent to the Governor for his signatures.

According to sources, the Governor refused to sign on the amendment and referred it back to the government for reconsideration.

The sources said Patil took the decision because the amendment was against the spirit of the said Act.

The Punjab Village Common Lands Regulation Act provides for the protection of shamlat land for use of common purposes of villagers. The Act states that only 50 per cent of shamlat in a village can be leased out or sold by the village for income. The other 50 per cent of the land has to be retained by the village for its own use. “However, over the years, this provision has been violated to the point of vulgarity. Shamlat land is being sold in totality,” said a revenue officer.

© 2012 The Indian Express Limited. All rights reserved

Thursday, July 5, 2012

‘Encroachments in villages won’t be tolerated’ - Surjit Singh Rakhra, Rural Development and Panchayat Minister, Punjab

Surjit Singh Rakhra wants to be remembered as Rural Development and Panchayat Minister who made earnest efforts to bridge the rural-urban divide. In an interview with Jangveer Singh, he talked of the need for region-specific schemes.

What are your first impressions on taking over as Rural Development and Panchayat Minister?
My first thoughts were to take steps to end factional fighting in panchayats, which spokes the development process. I am aware of the migration from villages to urban areas and the lack of facilities in villages due to which even government servants are reluctant to serve there. Unemployment in rural areas remains a bane.

How do you propose to change this state of affairs?
We are fine-tuning the ‘e-panchayat’ initiative under which the functioning of panchayats will become transparent. I want to make people proud of their villages by ensuring they have their own portal where apart from information on the village, expenditure of development funds will also be recorded. This will remove bad blood among different factions on the money spent on development works. Simultaneously, the PURA (Provisioning of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas) is being implemented under which villages with a population of 25,000 - 40,000 will be provided urban facilities. Skill development centres will also be developed in rural areas under this scheme.

What else is being done to make the department functioning more efficient?
Training is being given by chartered accountants to sarpanches, panches and officials to help them prepare accounts as per the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) guidelines. Rules are being recast to improve the qualification of panchayat secretaries. Video-conferencing facilities are being set up at our office in Mohali for direct and periodic interaction with officials in the field. The concept of ‘panchayat sammelans’ has been given shape. This will enable direct interaction with sarpanches at the district level. We are highlighting success stories to promote the concept of model panchayats.

What is your immediate priority?
Besides focusing on reforms, I want to end open defecation in three years. The state will spend Rs 285 crore in three years to cover 5.5 lakh families who do not have a toilet. The scheme will be open to everyone who does not have a toilet in his or her home.

There have been complaints about the design of rural toilets. There are issues of seepage and waterlogging. Will these be addressed?
The design is sound. Problems have occurred where beneficiaries have made changes or are using excess water. The toilet seats are angled in such a manner that they require minimum water for cleaning. We have also brought in Sulabh under which besides construction of toilets, an awareness drive will be undertaken to ensure that these are used regularly. The company has been awarded a contract for constructing 15,000 toilets in the first phase.

The scheme for the houseless has not been implemented properly. What steps are you taking in this regard?
We are awaiting the latest socio-economic survey. The 2001 survey had identified only 4.40 lakh families living below poverty line (BPL). We expect the cost per house to be increased from the present Rs 45,000.

Any move to better the lot of village ponds?
There are ponds in 25,000 acres, that comes to roughly two acres per village. A plan has been made to rejuvenate 800 ponds this year. We are looking at a UNICEF technology that divides the pond into four parts with the first part being the inlet. Duckweed and fish will be used to clean the other parts.

Encroachment of village land and the manner in which ‘shamlat’ land is used has been a matter of controversy. What remedy do you suggest?

There will be zero tolerance towards encroachments. The department is in the process of getting cross cases filed wherever panchayat land has been encroached upon. We will get orders for eviction and reclaim such land. We have decided on a 24-hour helpline that will receive and track such complaints.

What is the status of livelihood improvement schemes?
We have 40 such schemes in 11 districts covering 1.84 lakh hectares. They include integrated watershed managements projects, mainly in the Kandi area, besides schemes encouraging drip irrigation, livestock development and provision of drinking water and roads in the backward regions of the state.

What challenges to you expect in the way of realising your goals?
Funds remain a challenge. We will try to ensure matching grants wherever needed. The state cannot avail of several schemes due to BPL limitations. Punjab needs area-specific schemes to accelerate the rate of development. We also want to be given special status. We have peculiar problems with industry being non-existent in border districts, some areas waterlogged and still others in Kandi thirsting for water.

Copyright : The Tribune Trust, 2007