New Delhi: Pro-poor programmes and reforms, initiatives in Naxal-hit areas and introduction of the ambitious Land Acquisition Bill marked the year 2011 for the Rural Development Ministry.

Shifted from the Environment Ministry during a reshuffle in July, Jairam Ramesh swung into action as he took up issues of utilisation of MNREGA funds with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati and with Montek Singh Ahluwalia the Planning Commission affidavit that said those spending Rs 32 a day in urban areas or Rs 26 a day in villages would no longer be deemed poor by the government.

Ramesh came out with UPA's ambitious Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2011, just 55 days after assuming charge as Rural Development minister.

The bill, introduced in Lok Sabha during the Monsoon Session of the Parliament, seeks compensation up to four times the market value of land in rural areas and twice the value in urban areas along with the stipulation that consent of 80 per cent of the people is necessary for acquisition.

To get it passed before Uttar Pradesh polls next year, Ramesh had even reached out to BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley with a request that their party MP Sumitra Mahajan, who heads Parliamentary Committee examining the legislation, should expedite its report to enable the government to pass it during the Winter Session.

But his efforts went in vein as the Standing Committee on Rural Development had held only few meetings to deliberate on it. Ramesh also shot off two letters to Mayawati accusing her of protecting those involved in alleged irregularities in implementation of MNREGA in some districts.

Insisting on a CBI probe, Ramesh cited instances of alleged irregularities and corruption in the implementation of the scheme in Balrampur, Gonda, Mahoba, Sonbhadra, Kushinagar, Mirzapur and Sant Kabir Nagar.

Mayawati, however, hit back at Ramesh seeking to know if any other state was being "harassed" in a similar manner and whether such an environment was being created "deliberately".

Identifying major challenges in implementation of rural employment guarantee scheme, Ramesh came out with a set of reforms that include payment of unemployment allowance if a legally entitled worker is not given the promised job on time.

The reform includes solutions to reducing delay in payments to workers, providing requisite number of days of work as per demand, improving quality of assets created under MGNREGA and their relevance to the livelihood of the poor and ensuring full wages stipulated under the programme.

The ministry also honoured Kaun Banega Crorepati winner Sushil Kumar, a MNREGA employee, declaring him as brand ambassador of the scheme.

It also reached an agreement with the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) for annual audit of all ministry programmes.

After assuming charge, Ramesh visited 14 Naxal-affected districts in eastern India and announced various schemes, including water and sanitation.

The ministry also initiated the Socio-Economic Caste Census through a comprehensive door to door enumeration. In the midst of the row over Planning Commission affidavit on BPL cap, Ramesh wrote to Ahluwalia questioning the current methodology and said relying on the plan panel's estimate to arrive at cut offs will not resolve the problem.

In a bid to bring youths in Jammu and Kashmir to the national mainstream, the ministry started a programme called "Himayat" through which hundreds of youths are being recruited in various private firms across the country under a centrally-sponsored programme.

The programme aims at giving training and placement to over one lakh people in the state within the next five years. The first batch of 'Himayat' programme trainees were given jobs in December.

(Agencies)