The Centre is launching a Rs 1,000-crore (Rs 10 billion) countrywide programme to harness rainwater for irrigation, fisheries and tree plantation at the village level.
The resources generated from these ventures will enable panchayats to undertake developmental activities.
Called "Hariyali", the new programme will be formally inaugurated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Monday at the beginning of the two-day national conference of rural development ministers of states.
The conference has been convened by the Centre to review the progress of various rural development projects.
Announcing this, Rural Development Minister Shanta Kumar said the Hariyali project was being launched with the dual objective of tackling the problem of water scarcity and augmenting the resources of panchayats in an attempt to strengthen them.
Under the scheme, panchayats will undertake rainwater conservation measures with technical assistance from state administration and use the impounded water for irrigation, fisheries and tree plantation, including horticulture. The income from water-user charges and the sale proceeds of fisheries will add to panchayats' resources.
Talking about the progress of the rural connectivity programme -- Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojna -- Kumar said projects worth Rs 7,553 crore (Rs 75.53 billion) had been sanctioned in the past two years.
These involved laying down 56,000 km of roads to connect 37,000 habitations. Nearly 85 per cent work had been completed under this programme, he added.
Apart from Rs 2,500 crore (Rs 25 billion) available from the cess levied on petrol, more resources are being sought from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank for the roads project.
While ADB has committed to give $500 million (about Rs 2,500 crore) next year, the amount to be provided by the World Bank is still being negotiated.
The minister said about Rs 16,000 crore (Rs 160 billion) had been utilised under the Indira Awas Yojna, the flagship rural housing programme, to construct about 9.3 million houses.
About 120,000 thousand houses were constructed, or upgraded, in 2002 alone. About 12.6 million more houses were needed to provide shelter to the rural poor, he said.
Kumar said monitoring committees, headed by the elected MPs, had been set up in each of the 500-odd districts to oversee the implementation of the rural development programmes.
Besides, a pilot project for district-level monitoring by external agencies was also taken up in 125 districts in 20 states.