How Gehlot sells drought relief
THERE is one thing the Rajasthan government excels
in — the fine art of public relations, in window dressing reality
so exquisitely that the dirt remains camouflaged. Whatever his detractors
might say, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is an inspired salesman.
Government expenditure on publicity and advertising has been more
than doubled this year. With allegations about inadequate relief
measures for drought flying thick and fast in the scorching heat,
attention was gloriously diverted. At a recent PHDCCI summit of
chief secretaries of the northern region in Jaipur, a succession
of lavish presentations and hard-sell convinced outsiders beyond
doubt that Rajasthan was the most innovative state in the country.
A slick 34 page magazine printed in Bombay elaborated on all the
unique projects initiated by the government — from education to
greening of the desert. Ironically, at a time when most of the state’s
famous lakes are reduced to shallow ponds, a scheme to introduce
‘‘houseboats’’ and water sports was unveiled by the tourism department.
Ignorant first-timers to the state were enthralled.
Reality however vastly differs. Successive governments
have made no attempt to address one of the state’s biggest problems
— drought. True, it is a natural phenomenon but as bands of enterprising
villagers have proved, its harmful fall-out can be averted simply
by creating sufficient green cover and unearthing new water sources.
But as the apocryphal saying here goes, ‘‘everybody loves a good
drought’’. There is no genuine desire or effort on the part of the
government to engineer permanent change. With somewhat monotonous
regularity, every summer the government laments that its entire
development efforts are neutralised by excessive expenditure on
relief works. As part of these, malnourished women are roped into‘‘Food
For Work’’ programmes, to construct roads and airstrips. Unused
to hard manual labour, many of them collapse in the merciless sun.
The whole exercise is rendered meaningless — the roads thus constructed
are bumpy and uneven and disintegrate under the first monsoon rain.
The next year they are again assigned the same work. If the money
was utilised to create more water sources in their villages, it
would reduce the severity of the next drought.
The latest CAG report is an eye-opener. Take
for example, the much touted Million Wells or Jeevan Dhara scheme
introduced in April 1988, to provide open irrigation wells to small
farmers. After incurring an expenditure of Rs 74.68 lakh, the wells
lie abandoned today. The reason: the failure of the District Rural
Development Agency to conduct a proper survey of the terrain before
starting work. In fact, some 204 wells were dug in hard, rocky strata
where the possibility of underground water sources was, to say the
best, frightfully remote. Again due to the defective and delayed
execution of the ambitious Bari Mansarovar Irrigation project in
Chittorgarh district, it was still incomplete. The project was scheduled
to be completed by 1995 at an estimated cost of Rs 4.92 crore, but
upto March 2000, a sum of Rs 11.81 crore had already been incurred,
with no signs of early completion.
With environmental experts stressing the need
for increased green cover in the state, a high-sounding Forestry
Development Project was launched by the government in April 1995.
Although by March 2000, Rs 136.19 crore had been spent, a whopping
3307 hectares remain barren. On 31 sites where plantation was blindly
carried out, the survival rate was below 40 percent. Worse, CAG
surveys reveal that in the case of anicuts or check dams constructed,
the percentage of cement used was much below the prescribed limit.
In happy contrast, pioneer Lakshman Singh of
village Laporia, district Dudu, mobilised villagers of some 20 hamlets
to plant trees and create a large park in a common area. In a superb
cooperative effort, each village in this consortium takes turns
to water and maintain the park. Even the fruits off the local trees
is shared equally. Thorough planning has transformed once arid wastelands
into greenery, thus minimizing the perils of drought.
Is it too much to expect governments to follow
this example, rather than squandering resources on relief works
which as a villager puts it, send out the message, Bhooke pyaase
road pe ghoomo. Till the next drought of course.