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Water, hunger, unemployment cloud BJP rule in MP

Shashikant Trivedi in Bhopal | November 11, 2008 13:14 IST

For voters in the forthcoming assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh [Images], the central poll issue is not bijli (electricity) or sadak (road). It is paani (water).

The capital Bhopal gets fresh drinking water once in two days. The fast depleting Upper lake -- the only source of water in the city -- has 'exposed' the state government which may have done sterling work elsewhere but has failed to provide safe (or even unsafe) drinking water to the capital city and the rest of the state.

Irrigation continues to be a major challenge, and that the government is totally dependent on the monsoon is evident from this year's shrinking wheat acreage. The government claims that it has brought an additional 480,000 hectares of land under irrigation. But agricultural potential continues to languish because of scanty rainfall.

"Government reservoirs are dry this year and the irrigation potential is likely to be down from 700,000 hectares to 400,000 hectares," says Pravesh Sharma, principal secretary, Department of Farmer Welfare, Agriculture and Cooperatives. All major foodgrains reported negative to 5.33 per cent growth. The acreage of oilseeds has gone down by 1.89 per cent. The wheat acreage has gone down by 50 per cent this year in Malwa region, the latest state economic survey says.

That the Bharatiya Janata Party government changed three chiefs ministers in five years hasn't helped the situation.

Raghavji, finance minister of the BJP's first chief minister Uma Bharti, had the daunting task of financing some populist measures put in place by her. Although she departed unceremoniously from the government and the party in August 2004, Raghavji was kept on as finance minister.

His management of finances was home-made and simple: curtail non-plan expenditure and put the surplus funds in development activities. Madhya Pradesh was rewarded by the Finance Commission twice as a result: Rs 363.06 crore was granted as debt waiver incentive in 2005-06, and an equal amount in the next financial year. His efforts to enact the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act in 2005 ensured his government another incentive of Rs 293.14 crore under debt swap and consolidation schemes.

Raghavji had to face more challenges when the chief minister changed. Bharti's successor, Babulal Gaur, promised protection to small traders, professionals and industrialists. Incentives, self-assessment schemes, exemptions, concessions and sops to all categories became the order of the day.

The actual fiscal reforms were visible when Shivraj Singh Chouhan replaced Gaur in November 2005. The tax revenue, which stood at Rs 7769.71 crore in 2004-05, grew to Rs 8933.34 crore (revised estimate) in 2005-06. The state kitty swelled to Rs 10,029.46 crore (budget estimate) in 2006-07 and is expected to touch Rs 11,885.68 crore in the current fiscal (2008-09). The non-tax revenue, which slipped from Rs 4,461.86 crore in 2004-05 also grew to Rs 2,059.08 crore in 2006-07, is expected to touch Rs 3,017.70 crore in 2008-09.

By 2005, Madhya Pradesh had a revenue surplus budget. Although this was mainly due to a grant of Rs 2,749.36 crore which the Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board returned to the state government, this increased non-tax revenue receipts. In 2008, Chouhan presented the last budget of the 12th assembly with a revenue surplus of Rs 2,839.78 crore.

The government has drastically reduced non-plan expenditure from Rs 1,382.99 crore in 2004-05 to Rs 383.46 crore (budget estimate) in 2006-07. It estimates the budget to go down to Rs 199 crore.

These are more than mere numbers because the BJP government's performance in building new roads and managing the power situation has been better than the Congress's. Of the total plan expenditure of Rs 15,634 crore (budget estimate) in Budget 2008-09, the BJP government earmarked an amount of Rs 2,270.01 crore for road-building to add 21,857 km of road in the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2007-12) besides constructing 20,000 km of roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojna.

There are many pluses in the government's report card on fiscal reform:

Revenue surplus was achieved for the first time after 13 years against a revenue deficit of Rs 25.49 crore for the year 2005-06 (revised estimate).

The state did not yield to the temptation of taking ways and means advances even for a day, even during the toughest financial year 2005-06 -- something which the state achieved after a long gap of 32 years.

Tax revenue growth has gone up from 7.69 per cent in 2002-03 to 18 per cent (average) during 2007-08 and is expected to maintain the same pace.

But intelligent fiscal management has not changed the lives of ordinary people. The dropout rate among schoolchildren continues to hover around 70 per cent, especially among lower income categories. State economic survey data also reveal the growth rate in primary sector has been estimated at 2.80 per cent in 2007-08 against 4.17 per cent in 2005-06.

The number of unemployed youth registered in employment exchanges increased from 466,000 in 2005 to 1.9 million in 2007 (June). The International Food Policy Research Institute report recently revealed that Madhya Pradesh ranked between Ethopia and Chad on the hunger index, even after completion of 12 stages of Bal Sanjeevni Abhiyan -- a drive to insulate eight million children against malnutrition with a huge fund allocation of Rs 633.28 crore in 2007-08.

The state government is silent on how it would address the infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rates that are the highest in India, at 74 and 301 per 1,000, respectively.

Budget allocation of Rs 1,240.91 crore to improve power transmission and distribution and an additional allocation of Rs 1,371.40 crore for power sector reforms have failed to bridge the demand-supply gap of 1,000 MW. Age-old thermal power stations break down at regular intervals and daily power cuts are more than 10 hours in rural areas.

As many as 60 companies have queued up to invest in the power sector but poor governance has restricted them to project reports.

The law and order situation in the state is not satisfactory although Rs 500 crore was invested between 2004 and 2007 to modernise police forces. The number of cases of crimes against women has declined by a nominal 4.21 per cent during 2004 and 2005 and 2.7 per cent during 2005 and 2006, but the number is very high at 25,432.

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