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Jairam Ramesh launching green initiatives to drive rural growth

The Economic Times:  September, 2012

New Delhi: Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, who shot into the limelight while handling the environment portfolio, is again launching green initiatives to ensure that part of the Rs 99,000 crore the government spends on rural development and employment schemes is used to improve water bodies, soil quality and conservation of resources.

These initiatives would be a key part of the government strategy of achieving a growth target of 8.2% in the 12th Plan period. As a large proportion of the rural population is dependent on natural resources for their livelihood and subsistence, the government plans to improve the "green quotient" of its rural development interventions to make them sustainable. "Greening can stimulate rural economies, create jobs, and maintain critical ecosystem services vital to the economy and human health and well being, and can also strengthen resilience to climate-induced change particularly of the rural poor who are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and natural resources degradation," rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said. "We are spending Rs 99,000 crore this year on rural development programmes and it would be a shame if we don't mainstream green objectives in these programmes," Ramesh said.

Sustainable green development is one of the priorities that the rural development ministry has set for the "flexi-fund" that it has proposed. To ensure that states are able to pursue rural development efforts with local imperatives, the ministry has proposed earmarking Rs 40,000 crore over a four-year period as "flexi-funds". States will be free to use this money to pursue local priorities, without being bound by national guidelines, as is the case with the central schemes. The ministry has set out some priorities like sustainable green development, rural infrastructure, and connectivity. There has been a certain resistance to the idea of a "green economy" seen mostly as an imposition by the developed and industrialised countries. Ramesh doesn't agree. "Greening is not a western plot to keep us in a state of permanent poverty but it is a domestic imperative needed to protect livelihoods," he said.

In May, Ramesh had reached out to the United Nations Development Programme, asking the multilateral body to suggest ways for 'greening' rural development schemes. The UNDP suggested efforts to strengthen "green" outcomes of the schemes by modifying guidelines, sharper definition, measurement and monitoring of green results.