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‘Public participation in government projects is very much possible’

Senior Karnataka IAS officer Bharatlal Meena is known for taking innovative steps. Wherever he has been deployed, he has left deep imprints of his work and innovative thinking. Now he is Principal Secretary in the Agriculture Department where he has taken many far-reaching decisions that are going to revolutionise the department in coming days. Venugopalan spoke to him in Bengaluru to know more about his plans. Excerpts:

gfiles: You are known for taking innovative steps for development in a majority of the posts you held. What are the initiatives for which you should be remembered as Principal Secretary, Agriculture?
Bharatlal Meena: Bureaucrats are not supposed to be remembered in any department. We take initiatives, considering the requirements of the department. In the Agriculture Department, we have taken many initiatives which were necessary for good governance. One such decision is rationalisation of various heads of accounts in the department. Earlier, the department had more than 25 heads of accounts for which the budget was allotted by the government. When we actually start implementing the heads of accounts, the amount is found to be meager. Sometimes it proves to be ridiculous. So, some time ago, we restructured them into six heads. It helped us utilise the money effectively.

Similarly, subsidy above Rs. 5,000 is now disbursed through banks only. Banks directly transfer the amount to the agency through which the farmer is supposed to buy the farm equipment and any other inputs. This has been implemented from last year. It fetched encouraging results. For this year, we have decided that amounts below Rs. 5,000 will also be routed through banks.

One more initiative is ‘Kisan Think’ where all transactions of “Raita Sampark Kendras” at the tehsil level are recorded online. Through this system, monitoring is done at the State level. Similarly, the operation of seed stock of the Karnataka State Seeds Corporation has been made online. We now know where the stock is available and we have to move it. Setting up of a buffer stock of fertilisers is also a major initiative. The government procures fertiliser in advance and stocks it at different strategically important locations. With this system, the demand and supply of fertilisers can now be effectively monitored. Similarly, files in the Secretariat are disposed of online. The farmers’ queries are addressed online. The farmers can now also communicate with the agriculture scientists.

Setting up of a buffer stock of fertilisers is also a major initiative. The government procures fertiliser in advance and stocks it at different locations. With this system, the demand and supply of fertilisers can now be monitored.

gfiles: Normally, the Agriculture Department is believed to be an unattractive department where one has to work for the welfare of farmers and farming without coming into the limelight. How do you manage it?
BM: No department in the government is attractive or unattractive. They are for the welfare of the people. I find the Agriculture Department very challenging. We are constantly in touch with large segments of the people. Since most of the programmes are subsidy-driven, the government passes subsidy through this department only. ‘Bhoo Chetna’ programmes give micro-inputs of nutrients to farmers. The soil test conducted under this scheme has proved to be a big hit. More than 50 lakh farmers are involved in it. Another challenge is that, after Rajasthan, it is one of the driest states in the country. We are investing a lot in building water harvesting structures and farm ponds. In the coming days, this Bhagya Lakshmi scheme is going to become a flagship scheme in the State.

gfiles: What are the major sections in the Agriculture Department?
BM: The agriculture department has two major departments—agriculture and watershed development. We have taken initiatives to merge these departments at the district level, where there is one department under a joint director. At the apex level, we have two departments for accounting the grants from the Government of India and the State government. In addition to these, we have the Karnataka State Seeds Corporation. We have four agriculture universities also. We have the seeds certification agency and the Karnataka Compost Development Corporation. There are also some minor undertakings like Karnataka Food Limited, Karnataka Agriculture Procure Export Corporation, etc.

gfiles: How do you manage the work in drought- and flood-affected areas, especially distribution of seeds, fertilisers, etc?
BM: As I have said, Karnataka is the second most drought-prone State. Some parts of the State are drought-affected while other areas like Western Ghats and coastal areas receive heavy rains. There are floods in those areas, while other parts face drought in the same season. It makes the task very difficult to explain before the government that we face both drought and floods in the same season. These are the gifts of nature. But we have been managing both the conditions. So, managing the distribution of seeds and fertilisers is not an issue. We have 747 Raita Sampark Kendras where we keep the stock of fertilisers and seeds. We distribute the seeds and fertilisers and other inputs to farmers from those Kendras and cooperative societies.

gfiles: Do you have any scheme to educate farmers about farm technology?
BM: Definitely, we have university-wise Krishi Melas and also the KVKs.We felicitate the farmers as Krishi Pandit for any new technology they invent. We also use All India Radio and Doordarshan. Through media also, we educate the farmers.

gfiles: How do you implement e-governance?
BM: It is implemented through various initiatives like rationalisation of budget and various schemes, interaction with the farmers through portals, information of farm melas, etc. Under the present government we have taken many initiatives like rationalisation of subsidy and bank-only disbursement. That is also part of e-governance. File disposal, complaint disposal, information through AIR, Doordarshan, 24-hour kiosks, counters, etc., are also part of e-governance.

gfiles: What is the strategy for complete digitalisation of the Department?
BM: Work is going on. There is a scheme for it. Many schemes have already been digitallised. We want to implement the Krishi Bhagya scheme also online.

gfiles: Any schemes to be implemented through Public-Private Partnership?
BM: In four districts, we want to involve private parties in providing extension services to farmers. We have medical services for people. We have veterinary doctors in the fields—private people provide services to the needy people. On similar lines, we want to have, on an experimental basis, a PPP initiative for providing extension services to people. We had invited tenders, but the response was not satisfactory. Therefore, we are again inviting tenders. In food processing also, private parties can be involved. Of course, many initiatives can be taken. But it depends upon the policies of both the Central and the State governments.

gfiles: Earlier, you headed the Horticulture Department. What are the major schemes you introduced?
BM: In the horticulture department, 100 per cent digitalisation of schemes was done. We have done preparatory work to implement the schemes. Much work was done to keep the parks clean and to develop more parks.

gfiles: What are the programmes designed to make the farmers happy and prosperous?
BM: All the schemes are intended to make them happy. But it is also a fact that no one can make the farmers happy and prosperous because farming depends upon nature also. Inflation is also there and the growth in agriculture cannot keep pace with the growth in other sectors. You never know the true value of the farm produce and the farmers do not get true value. The government has set up the Karnataka Agriculture True Price Commission to look into the price mechanism for farmers so that they get true value for their produce. The Krishi Bhagya scheme is for dry land farmers. There are various other schemes in different departments.

gfiles: How do you involve people in government schemes without providing any monetary assistance through your NGO, Apnadesh?
BM: We don’t raise any funds for our activities. Hence, we do not have money to give anyone. All people associated with us meet their expenses on their own. We work just as a catalyst and the work is done by the people. We observe full transparency in our activities and people definitely respect any work carried out with transparency and honesty. Our experience with Apnadesh is that public participation in any government project is not difficult. We try to provide government funds to the groups of people and motivate them to contribute in that either in monetary form or shramdan. It happens. There are many success stories. This is the reason lakhs of people are part of this initiative in Karnataka today.

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