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Save The poor AND the planet


The poor AND the planet

34 anicuts, built under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gaurantee Scheme (MGNREGS), in Rajasthan kicked up groundwater levels in the area by 10-40 feet. In Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh, silt excavated under MGNREGS and put to use on 36,000 acres of land belonging to SC/ST and below poverty line families drastically improved soil fertility. Tree planting activities over an area of 2,341 hectares in Chitradurga district in Karnataka could mean sequestration of 93 tonnes of carbon per hectare over a 30-year period.

Equitable cake. Eat it too...
These are “green” results of rural development schemes such as MGNREGS and NBA, cited in a report called Greening Rural Development in India, a collaboration between United Nations Development Programme and Ministry of Rural Development (MRD). Rural development schemes provide amenities such as housing, sanitation and roads to the rural poor. MRD is the largest ministry in our country with close to 10 major and several small development schemes running under it. In the 2013-14 Union Budget, the Ministry was allocated the largest portion of the tax money pie - Rs 80,194 crore. With this report, MRD is adding environment sustainability to its policy plate. Nitya Jacob, Programme Director – Urban Water Policy, Centre for Science and Environment and an expert  contributor to the report explains, “Greening rural development means improving the environment with the involvement of rural people or led by them, in turn, assuring them a sustainable livelihood with better access to natural resources.” It is the brain child of Rural Development minister, erstwhile Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh.

Leafing through the green
What a swell idea, no? A rural development scheme now becomes a two-headed arrow that basically builds a bridge between environment and rural populations so that they can help each other out. Okay, so we have the ‘what’, now let us talk about the ‘how’. How do we develop double-edged rural development schemes? “I think the report sums it up very well with the 5 criteria,” says Astad Pastakia, Ahmedabad-based freelance development consultant and another expert contributor.  It looks to:

  •     Improve the quality of the environment and stop the decline and overuse of natural resources
  •    Develop livelihoods for the rural people by sustainably using available natural resources
  •    Strengthen ecosystems to be able to cope with climate change
  •   Efficiently use energy, material, natural resources and increase the use of renewable materials in existing schemes to reduce their ecological footprint
  •     Contribute to climate change mitigation

The two-bird stone
 “It is a mindset change that this report is trying to bring about. Call attention to the “sustainability” angle of rural development schemes. And call for money, of course,” says Nitya, “Rural planning becomes more comprehensive and improves the quality of life for the rural population. For example, check dams improve water availability. Reusing paddy stalks for mulching in the
fields and reusing husk for bricks and water filters are traditional practices,
but the idea is to bring them back
in vogue.”



Where do we go from here?

It is common sense that if people derive a benefit from saving the environment, they will only be too eager to do it. In India, the primary asset for a majority of the rural population is the environment. With this report, MRD has married two of the most pressing problems facing our country today – poverty and environment degradation. Rural development schemes have not
been without their problems – implementation, corruption and losing focus somewhere in between, but the report has some interesting case studies worth exploring.

    In an encouraging move, the MRD has set priority recommen­dations for itself including developing green guidelines for schemes and measuring green results regularly and publishing an Annual Green Report. Similarly, there are priority recommendations for the six schemes.  Only time will tell when and if these become policy decisions...

    “As to where it is going, I do not have much information. There have been no further consultations with the Ministry. The fact that they are serious about greening programmes is evident from the simple and effective monitoring indicators we were asked to develop,” says Astad. While Nitya has a suggestion for MRD, “Schools are a great opportunity to 'green'. Whether it is wastewater reuse and recycle, rainwater harvesting, composting and waste management or renewable energy. I know that they come under a different ministry, but not including Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Integrated Child Development Services in this effort is an opportunity missed.”

Schemes to see green

  • n  Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS): Guarantees 100 days of unskilled manual work and prescribed wages to a rural household whose adult members volunteer.  Budgetary allocation in 2012-13:

Rs 33,00,000 crores

  • n  National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM): Sustainable livelihood improvements and greater access to financial services such as credit to increase rural household incomes of close to 70 million households living below the poverty line (BPL) in rural India. Budgetary allocation in 2012-13: Rs 3, 56,300 crores
  • n Integrated Watershed Development Programme (IWDP): Conserve and develop degraded natural resources such as soil, water and forests to provide sustainable livelihoods. Budgetary allocation in 2012-13: Rs 2, 74,400 crores
  • n  Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY): Provides financial grants to rural BPL families and the next-of-kin of defence personnel killed in action for construction of houses and upgrade existing kutcha houses. Budgetary allocation in 2012-13: Rs 9, 96,600 crores
  • n  National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP): Provide adequate safe water for domestic use on a sustainable basis. Budgetary allocation in 2012-13:  Rs 10, 50,000 crores
  • n  Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA): Formerly known as Total Sanitation Campaign, it assists Gram Panchayats in building toilets in their villages. Budgetary allocation in 2012-13: Rs 3,50,000 crores


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Save The poor AND the planet