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Plan panel arm turns pensioners' paradise.

THE National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA), which functions under the Planning Commission, seems to be turning into a pensioners' paradise and has among its ranks even some officials who have crossed the maximum age limit of 65 years for the posts. According to reliable sources, the NRAA bigwigs have now internally cleared a proposal to hike the retirement age to 70 years and are lobbying for the Planning Commission's approval to get it cleared.

They have already taken Planning Commission's deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia for a ride and got the appointment of a retired official cleared as deputy secretary despite the fact that there is no vacancy for the slot. The NRAA guidelines clearly state that there should be either a deputy secretary or an undersecretary to carry out the administrative work of the organisation. Sources disclose that since NRAA has an undersecretary in place there is no vacancy, as only one post has been officially sanctioned. However, the NRAA bosses moved a proposal to get an official who retired from the ministry of rural development last year on the ground that he has worked with the NRAA before and knows the functioning of the organisation.

According to sources, NRAA officials have taken advantage of Ahluwalia's hectic schedule and got the appointment cleared in a routine manner. For Ahluwalia who handles crucial macro-economic issues and G 20 talks for the country, the appointment of a deputy secretary is a very small matter.

However, getting past the erudite Ahluwalia has emboldened the NRAA bosses who expect the proposal on raising the working age to 70 years to sail through as well.

Sources disclosed that there are at least five officials in the NRAA who are above the maximum age limit of 65 years.

Uplifting rainfed areas is a crucial plank in the " inclusive development" mantra that the government has been chanting for empowering the masses.

" However, if the ranks of the NRAA are packed with old men and no fresh blood is inducted, the objective of developing vast swathes of unirrigated land that fall in the rainfed area category will receive a setback," a senior official told M AIL T ODAY . Rainfed areas account for as much as 60 per cent of the net sown area in India and 100 per cent of the forest cover also comes under this classification.

The importance of the rainfed areas can also be gauged from the fact that 85 per cent of the pulses in the country and 77 per cent of the oilseeds are harvested from these tracts.

Since the output of these crops fall far short of the country's demand, recourse has to be made to expensive imports to plug the gap. Past experience has shown that each time India steps into the overseas market to buy these items international prices shoot up as the quantity of purchases is very large given the huge size of the country's population that has to be fed.

With food inflation hovering at 17 per cent and supply bottlenecks turning out to be a major problem, it is important to address the development of rainfed areas in a more focused manner at the ground level.

" Clearly, if the effort is going to be led by old timers well past their prime, you cannot get the same results as a more youthful team who are willing to rough it out at the field level," a senior official remarked.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Feb 7, 2011
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