Friday, August 31, 2012

Twenty-four percent of the MLAs in the current Gujarat assembly have criminal cases pending against them, says a report prepared on the basis of the elections held in 2007. The report was released at a workshop on planning for the upcoming assembly elections in the state that was organised at AMA by Gujarat Election Watch. Out of the total 181 MLAs from the state surveyed for the report, 24 belong to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and 20 to the Congress, the report says. It also gives details of the financial standing of different MLAs of the state. Talking about the document, GEW coordinator Jagdeep Chhokar said that the report had been prepared to highlight the fact that many MLAs and candidates for elections had criminal records and had assets worth crores. “We are trying to make the people realize through the report that such candidates shouldn’t get tickets. The report would help voters make an informed choice about the candidates,” said Chhokar. He also said that GEW would use various media such as short films, presentations and even SMSes to appeal to people not to vote against candidates who had spent a huge amount of money on their campaign. Jagdeep Chhokar is also a retired professor of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA). The workshop, which focused on the need for greater transparency in the electoral process, was attended by representatives of civil society organizations and government bodies. In his presentation, PK Das, director general of expenditure with the Election Commission of India, said that efforts were being made to control the use of black money in polls. National coordinator of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) Anil Bairwal said that candidates against whom criminal cases were pending shouldn’t be given tickets by parties. “We are working aggressively to find out how political parties can be pressurized not to give tickets to such candidates,” Bairwal said. He further said that this would be the third time that ADR would be keeping an Election Watch in an election in Gujarat. “This would enable us compare the assets and properties of the MLAs and find out whose property had increased massively,” Bairwal said. He also said that there was need to change the outdated procedure for fixing the ceiling on election expenses for candidates. Changing the format in which election expenses have to be registered, and making it mandatory for candidates to have separate bank accounts for election expenses will help in effective monitoring election expenses, he said. Chief Electoral Officer of Gujarat, Anita Karwal, also attended the workshop. She said that the use of money power is the main problem during elections. Karwal also gave a presentation on the procedure for online registration of voters.

Abhinav Sharma
This once drought-prone State has shown that, with effective water management, it is possible to provide clean drinking water to the people. The water supply grid has performed commendably, says Abhinav Sharma
Amidst the scarcity of drinking water in the country, the Gujarat Government has set a benchmark in drinking water management. During 2000-01, the State Government supplied drinking water to 4,054 villages using tankers, due to water scarcity in Gujarat. In 2011, the number of villages getting supply of drinking water using tanker has shrunk to 212.
In the fiscal year 2001-02, the Union Government allocated Rs 2,160 crore or 1.66 per cent of its total plan outlay of Rs 1,30,181 crore for water supply and sanitation, whereas the Gujarat Government allocated 9.51 per cent or Rs 618 crore for water supply and sanitation out of Rs 6,500 crore of its annual State Budget. Tracking it over a period of 10 fiscal years, the Union Government allocated Rs 11,000 crore or 1.86 per cent of its total plan outlay of Rs 5,92,457 crore in fiscal 2011-12. By contrast, the Gujarat Government made an allocation of Rs 1,886 crore or 4.96 per cent of its total State Budget of Rs 38,000 crore.
The commitment shown by the State Government to improve drinking water supply should not be measured by these numbers alone. It should be seen along with the policy directives and commitment of the State machinery, which worked in direct coordination with the Chief Minister’s office. The results were obvious; Gujarat was able to provide clean drinking water to 64 per cent of its population even while people in other parts of the country braved droughts and floods, with drinking water being far from their reach.
It is a simple case of poor management of water both by other States and the Centre. Otherwise, how would Gujarat — a State that has braved 26 droughts in the past 75 years —still provide clean drinking water to more than 63 per cent of its population?
Under Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Gujarat has boosted piped water supply to over 11,000 villages and 127 towns in the past decade. The State Government used to spend about Rs 125-150 crore annually for making emergency arrangements for drinking water. But now the State Government is spending money in developing and strengthening the water supply system in the State.
The State’s Budget provision for water supply has increased from Rs 672 crore in the fiscal year 2003-04 to Rs 2500 crore in 2012-13, and it aims to cover 75 per cent of the population under the Sardar Sarovar programme. Prior to this, the number of villages and towns covered in 2001 was dismal. The State took a number of measures through its drought-proofing plan to address the drinking water problems.
By setting up the Statewide water supply grid and implementation of 395 regional schemes, the Gujarat Government has shown its resolve to provide clean drinking water to its people. To this end numerous organisational and structural changes to the drinking water sector, where the major source of water shifted from ground water to surface water, were made.
As part of the drought-proofing plan, the water supply grid was used to transfer bulk water from Narmada and other rivers to water-scarce and water quality affected areas. So far, the initiative has inter-linked 27 rivers for transfer of water to scarce region and also for recharge purposes.
The drinking water supply programme of the State Government was unique in its appearance as well as character. It empowered people through community managed programmes, where the people planned, implemented, operated and managed their village water supply works within the framework of the Panchayati Raj. The achievement is commendable in light of the State’s increasing urbanisation.
“Rapid rise in economic activities, rise in income and reduction in urban poverty has implications for drinking water demand,” says Ms Meera Mehta and Mr Dinesh Mehta of CEPT University, in their paper on Urban Drinking Water Security and Sustainability in Gujarat. They also add that the Narmada canal water has been a boon to urban local bodies in Gujarat in meeting the rising water demand.
The initiative helped reduce the over-exploitation of ground water that had led to the depletion of the water table at the rate of three to five metres annually, in the drought-prone regions of Saurashtra and Kutch.
“This situation has changed significantly since the Narmada canal-based drinking water programme has been initiated,” say the Mehtas. “In 2009, only 35 per cent of the ULBs depended exclusively on ground water as a principle source of water, while 18 per cent are dependent exclusively on Narmada canal water. Nearly half of the ULBs use both Narmada canal water and ground water,” they inform.