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World Bank stand on watershed project opposed

By Alladi Jayasri

BANGALORE, DEC. 20. Last week, when the Agriculture Minister, K. Srinivasa Gowda, said the World Bank was opposed to panchayat raj institutions implementing the Rs. 677.73-crore Sujala watershed development programme, it raised hackles in many quarters.

Within the Department of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, which is ensuring devolution of powers — financial, administrative and decision-making — to the local bodies under the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution, the World Bank's view that the implementation of the project will be delayed if the Watershed Development Department transfers it to gram panchayats has caused surprise.

Sources told The Hindu that World Bank's observation that the local bodies lack the skill and infrastructure to execute, supervise and evaluate the project is ironical, considering that it is currently funding the project for devolution of powers to panchayats.

The devolution of powers and funds to panchayats directly have become a reality, and the next phase of the project is capacity-building and training for gram panchayat members for effective decentralisation of local governance, sources said.

Projects affected

While the State Government's October 16 order transferring over 170 State sector schemes, including externally aided projects, to panchayats, along with the funds is in line with the policy of decentralisation, there are enough instances to show that in the earlier World Bank schemes, the decision to keep out the panchayats has proved to be bad news for the projects as well as the stakeholders.

A classic example is the Rs. 750-crore Jala Samvardhane Yojana Sangha scheme for rejuvenation of 2,000 tanks, which was initiated with World Bank assistance. The project included tank-user cooperatives, farmers' groups and self-help groups as stakeholders and left out the panchayats. Panchayats, it was later found, as in Hangal taluk of Haveri, refused to have anything to do with the tank rejuvenation project and refused to set aside funds from its resources.

For consultant H.C. Sharat Chandra, executive director, Centre for Research on Environment, Development, Innovation, Technology and Trade, the World Bank stand amounts to interference in the policy-making system of the country. "The entire exercise of handing over the schemes is in compliance with the constitutional amendment, and non-implementation will be to show disrespect to the institution of Parliament. "The World Bank or any financial institution cannot dictate terms to the country's seat of people's power," Dr. Sharat Chandra said.

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