Life does not run as planned. The idea was that today Girish Godbole, my dear friend and former colleague from PRADAN days, would join me for the walk from Wardha to Paunar (about 10 kms), but when he went to the Pune station to catch the train last evening, he found the timing had changed to 3 am and he would arrive only late night tonight. So he had booked himself by a flight to Nagpur, landing at 1230. I suggested he join us at Paunar, which is on the Wardha Nagpur highway.
Labour Market, Wardha
So my BASIX colleagues and I began at 9 am with a walk towards Paunar, stopping first at a breakfast place. Considerate about my budget (no more than NREGA wages of Rs 100 per day) , Anand had identified a place which served masala dosa for Rs 15. And it was a good dosa. As we were walking there, we crossed a large number of men milling around on both sides of the street. This was the “labour market” or Maal Dhakka in local parlance, where every day, over 500 to 700 men gathered. They range from unskilled labourers, to mistries (masons), carpenters, “centring” (shuttering) workers, tiling workers, even small contractors. We decided we will come back and talk to them, which we did. After a while, I asked them if they mind if I record them on video using my Blackberry, and they said yes. So we have some five interviews on video.
** Sushil – There are many lessons here for our discussions last week in B-ABLE about enhancing our understanding of how informal sector workers find work, pick up skills, etc. The idea of “training in a sachet” or nano-training seems possible with this bunch of already working skilled workers. For example, see the interview with the centering worker who says he has been doing this for 15 years but cannot read instructions or architectural drawings. Also there is some evidence on willingness vs hesitation to pay for training.
** Sushil, please get your team to watch these videos (in Hindi, total about 20 mins – one uploaded at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jGKEXF1rMI ) and follow this up. Incidentally, I saw an Indigram centre in the premises of our friendly NGO, GSST.
Vidarbha Pradesh Vikas Parishad
As we left the Maal Dhakka, we saw a signboard of Vidarbha Pradesh Vikas Parishad (VPVP)and walked in. Met Dadasaheb Bangde, Zilla Adhyaksh, Wardha dt, VPVP. + 91 93262 44292. He told us the VPVP was founded in 2005 by Congress (ex NCP) MP Datta Meghe. It is now active in eleven districts. Apart from being an MP, Mr Memghe runs a hospital on the Yavatmal Road and also the “Meghe Group of Schools”.
Dadasaheb has his own 25 acres of land in Paunar, and he runs a “semi English” (6th upwards) school for 950 kids from KG to 12th Standard. Dadasaheb tells us about farmers in Vidarbha who grow Sugarcane, Cotton, Soya and Tur. Cane is preferred as it is less costly to cultivate and yields 40 quintals/acre which is good. But price fluctuation is high – from Rs 1750/q last year to 1550/q this year. When I ask about the amount of water cane uses, he dismisses it saying water use is reduced by drip irrigation. Cotton price was Rs 5600/q now, but last year it was 4700/q but he got the older rate as he had no holding capacity. Monopoly purchase is gone but spinning mill takes 60 days to pay. I ask about high value crops like grapes and strawberries. Samir tells me on the side “Strawberry can grow anywhere but the size fetches the price. In cold Mahabaleswar one sberry can be 100gms while in Vidarbha it is 20 gms.”
I ask Dadasaheb about the plight of the small and marginal farmers in Vidarbha and he repsonds “Sarkar ney sar pay chadha rakha hai. Ghar baithe dhanya. .(The government has put them on its head. Just getting money sitting at home).Wages have gone up due to this.” Clearly he did not think that small farmers were suffering any more than bigger ones.
The street – A Kabadi, a Bandwala, a Potter and a Dariwala
Bhimrao Charandas Gaikwad runs a “kabadi” (waste recycling) business from a roadside tin shed for the last 3 yarrs. Before that, he had a haath gaadi (hand cart) for 30 yrs. He buys glass; plastic sole; plastic pouches; paper cartons and newspaper raddi. He does not deal in metals “Because 75% of metal scrap is stolen. Its not for us small people.” Despite paying Rs 5 per day to Wardha Municipal Corporation (WMC) with a receipt, he has been raided six times by “atikraman” (encroachment) department of WMC. “Though they don’t take a bribe, on those days I have to sell all my kabad for whatever price I get and make a loss”.
He collects kabad from about twenty tricycle-using WMC authorised garbage collectors, each bringing worth Rs 50-100. He buys kabad at Rs 5 per kg and sells at a margin of Rs 1 per kg to a wholesaler in Itwara Bazar who gives him a loan of Rs 1000 daily. Without credit, Bhimrao can sell raddi that he bought for Rs 1000 for Rs 1200, but if he has taken a loan from the wholesaler, then it is for Rs 1150. The interest works out to Rs 20 per day on Rs 500, or 4% per day. Why is it that he could not save even Rs 500 for his daily business? “I have five children and cannot afford to save even Rs 10 per day. I have four daughters – three I have married off, the last one is in 12th, and my son is in 11th class. I expect him to join the kabadi business. ”
What if he gets a loan? His eyes light up. “If I get a loan of Rs 10,000, I will accumulate raddi for 15 days and sell directly to factories in the MIDC Industrial Estate. I will earn Rs 1 per kg more margin. I will earn Rs 3000 every 15 days instead of Rs 2250.” Bhimrao says his monthly electricity bill is Rs 3-400 pm, though he has swicthed to CFLs ( he points out the CFL in his shop). He has not heard of solar lamps. His Gond plot slum has 4500 people. This could be an opportunity for solar PV lighting systems. **Ajay Giri to check this out – urban slums as potential customers for solar home lighting.
Next to the Kabadi was a bandwala Madan Kale who told us he kept a phone as a show piece, just to indicate that he got orders by phone also. He had also not taken any loan and claimed to have built up musical instruments and electronic equipment worth Rs 30,000 from the business over the years. He employed 1o Karigars none of whom were full-time. Some drove a rickshaw, others did labour, and in the evenings, they dressed up to go in processions playing the band. What if a crucial karigar did not turn up? I asked him. His unfazed reply – “The Casio (synthesiser) is there. We can play any instrument we like. Only thing the Casio karigar charges Rs 400.”‘
### Yesterday, as I was talking to the four boys at the tea shop, two others nearby were busy transferring a song from one mobile phone to the other using Blue Tooth. Today it is Casio synthesisers. For the second time in two days, I saw how easily the common man masters new fangled technology.
The potter across the road, Shri Prajapati, turned out to be not at home. But his mother was there and she told us that they had been in Wardha for four generations. Her husband and she used to make a living making pots, and now one of her sons does. But they employ helpers. The range has also gone beyond just water pots, to flower pots, piggy banks, and most recently (about five years ago), water pots with a plastic tap attached. We decided not to bother the old lady with too many questions and moved on. Anyway, it was getting to be about 1 pm already.
There were several similar looking roadside shops all selling daris (cotton floor rugs), and similar items, mostly made in Panipat, Haryana. The sales network was fascinating. The two fellows at the “shop” (completely temporary road side stacking), Manoj and Ranbir Singh, were salesman in day time and security guards at night. Coming from Moradabad district of UP, each was paid Rs 5000 per month and given ingredients for preparing his own food. The two of them managed two neighbouring and apparently competing shops, though they were both owned by the same Seth, whose identity they did not know, and who employed a Munshi who visited them once a week or so. Daily sales varied from Rs 1000 to Rs 4000 and the stock of material seemed to be worth Rs 40-50,000. It reminded of the Tibetan refugees, who have made an art of street-side trading, starting with sweaters, but then shoes, and many other things.
Meeting with two collaborators
Mr Sanjay Barde, MSc Agri, Marketing Officer of Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilisers, has been working with BASIX last five years. Once he heard that I was passing by Wardha, he came looking for me. We sat down at a juice shop on the road side. He told me of the need to change farmers’ mentality to ensure that they use balanced fertiliser doze. For this, he said, soil testing is a must and based on it different kind of fertiliser to be given. Micro-nutrient testing is also needed at least once a year. Last year BASIX tested for 1800 farmers in Wardha district with the help of RCF. When I asked why can we not do this with our own lab, Samir told me it will cost Rs 10-12 lakh to establish our own soil testing lab. Mr Barde emphasised the need to add humus through vermicompost, which adds N, P, K plus 16 types of enzymes. BASIX should promote vermicompost through its contact farmers. I was wondering what would make this so desirable that farmers would use it like they use gutka.
**Ram, Vasumathi – We should have a slogan – BASIX Farmer, Balanced Farmer. Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM )should be 100% adopted as a pre-condition for crop loan from us.
While I was sitting with Mr Barde, I saw the sign board of a water testing lab across the road. I asked Sarvar Pasha, the Wardha Unit Head, if he could check with the owner, if he would let us come and talk. The answer was an enthusiastic yes, since we were among his first customers. Mr Vijay Rathi told us that a full fledged water testing lab costs Rs 7 lakh but basic Na, Mg. Ca, As, Zn, Ba, Cu, Fe Fluorides, Chlorides, Sulphates, Nitrates, TDS, pH, E Coli and Coliform count can be done cheaply using a multi-parameter field test kit. It costs Rs 2500 per kit for 100 tests.
Contact Mr Vyas of Ltek Systems +91 712 2442230 Nagpur +91 93706 32746 for water testing kits. **Samir Vaidya to follow up on this.
By this time it was 2.30 pm and we decided to drive to the Magan Sangrahlaya for lunch. This place was a bit off the main road. It was housed in the erstwhile Maganwadi, where Gandhiji lived for about a year on arrival to Wardha from Yervada jail near Pune. Exhorting his followers to go and live in villages, Gandhiji himsel decided moving to the village of Segaon, which Gandhiji renamed Sevagram. Here Jamnalal Bajaj’s had some title land and that is what became the Sevagram Ashram. Maganwadi was later used by Maganbhai to experiment with a number of “appropriate technologies”, including improved chulhas (cook stoves) and water pots. Today it houses an “vish mukt” , literally “poison free”, but more politely organic farmers’ collective. Apart from selling a number of their produced items, the place also runs an eating place, where sumptuous zunkar bhakri thali is only Rs 25.
Down Memory Lane
Out of Maganwadi.came the Centre for Science for Villages (CSV), which had been the work place for my IIT Delhi friend Ajay Sood, who , in a way, introduced me to rural development. He, in turn had friends like Anand Kumar, a medical researcher from AIIMS, Vibha Gupta, the daughter of Gandhian Devendra bhai, and Vinoo Kale, the late architect who was very taken by bamboo. CSV now has a campus in Dattapur, on the way to Paunar, carved out of the campus of the Maharogi Seva Samiti, the rehabilitation centre for leprosy affected people.
Driving to Dattapur took me back to 1982, when i first came here. I was then working with the Association for Sarva Seva Farms (ASSEFA), a Gandhian NGO, which worked to resettle landless people who had received Bhoodan land. Though ASSEFA’s founders Jagannathan ji and Loganathan ji began in Tamil Nadu and worked there from 1969, the Gandhi Centenary year till 1979, they were persuaded by other Gandhians to spread their good work. So, Diwakar ji, called them to Gaya, Acharya Ramamurti to Jamui and Lakhibhai to Deoghar, all in Bihar, because these districts had a lot of Bhoodan land. Then, Siddharaj Daddhaji called ASSEFA to Kota and Baran in Rajasthan while Dr Ravishankar Sharma called them to Wardha and Yavatmal districts. I was lucky to have met this second circle of Gandhians, most of them in their 60s or older, when I worked with ASSEFA. I met Sombhai who led the Khadi ashrams network in Haryana, and Siddharaj Daddha who worked with wool spinners and weavers in Rajasthan. In the south, Arunachalam ji built the khadi movement all over Tamil Nadu, while Radhakrishna from AP built the Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi while Krishnaswamy led the training arm. I was lucky to have seen this tradition, albeit as it was in its decline, having been dealt a body blow by the infamous Kudal Commission of enquiry into Gandhian Institutions, following Indira Gandhi’s return to power in 1980.
After Independence, Gandhiji said once that the Congress should be disbanded. Those who heeded him, formed the Sarva Seva Sangh, and joined the Sarvodaya Movement. People like Annasaheb Sahasrabudhe, Dada Dharmadhikari, Thakurdas Bang and JC Kumarappa, were Gandhijis’s apostles, who carried out various parts of his “Constructive Work” and took it to various parts of the country, often settling down in Ashrams. I was lucky to have visited between 1982 to 1987 in places like the Samanvaya Ashram of Dwarko Sundrani in Bodh Gaya, the Shatanandgram Ashram of Diwakar ji near Sherghati, the Sakhodara Ashram of JP himself; the Jaura Ashram in Morna, MP, where Subbarao stayed after the surrender of Chambal dacoits, likeNatwar Thakkar stayed back in Nagaland, after the peace mission there.
While implementing the ASSEFA projects in Bihar, I stayed several times in the famous Shram Bharti Ashram in Khadigram, near Jamui, which was founded by Dhiren Majumdar, and where scores of Sarvodaya workers were trained by him in rural development work. Alas, Dhirenbhai had passed away, as had JP, by the time I went to those places, but I could hear first hand stories about them from the intellectually inclined Acharya Ramamurti (who was the mentor of VP Singh, who became Prime Minster in 1990) and from the indefatigable grassroots worker Kamlapati bhai and the khadi worker Lakhibahi of Santhal Parganas.
Today, the only person I could meet from my “Gandhian” past was Mankar ji, then ASSEFA’s field manager for Wardha, who now runs an NGO, the Gram Swaraj Seva Trust out of ASSEFA’s erstwhile Dattapur campus. I drop into his house and meet him warmly and he re-introduces me to his son Pravin, who tells me that he has set up a section 25 company called D-Matrix to do microfinance, learning it all from the BASIX website, http://www.basixindia.com We take some pictures, for keep sake, and then I start walking to Paunar. But soon the message comes that my friend Girish Godbole had reached Paunar already. Not wanting him to wait alone, having come all the way from Pune to be with me, I get into a vehicle and drive to Paunar, four kilometres away.
Paunar Ashram and Vinoba Bhave
Named after the river that flows by it, the Ashram was Vinoba Bhave’s abode. And Vinoba was Gandhiji’s special pupil, someone he loved for his asceticism and his spirituality, one who had translated the Bhagwad Gita into the popular, accessible version Gitai in Marathi. When Gandhiji declared the commencement of the Quit India Movement in 1942, he chose Vinoba as the “First Satyagrahi” who could court arrest.
After Independence, Vinoba began to lead the Sarva Seva Sangh, promoting khadi and constructive work. In 1948, a violent struggle for land erupted in Andhra Pradesh and Vinoba, an apostle of peace and non-violence, decided to go and study the causes. In his travels through the villages, he realised the cause was highly unequal distribution of land. Vinoba was staying overnight in Pochampalli village in Nalgonda district, about 40 kilometres from Hyderabad, and he gave an evening sermon where he asked rhetorically if ever the landlords will give part of their land to the toiling landless.
One young man Ramachandra Reddy, the son of the wealthy local landlord, told him he would donate 40 acres of land. Vinoba was touched and asked him to come back the next day after speaking to his father, but the boy was adamant. That night, Vinoba had a vision. He decided to walk from one corner of India to another, going from village to village, asking the landlords to donate part of their land to the landless. The next morning, 18th April, he started his Bhoodan Padyatra (landgift footmarch) which took 14 years and 40,000 kilometres. By the time Vinoba finished in 1965, over 42 lakh acres of land had been donated!
A large part of the land was barren, undulating and had no irrigation. Thus the recipients needed more support before they could make a living from the land. That is where ASSEFA started its work, as the second phase of Bhoodan, to resettle the Bhoodan land allotees, A typical ASSEFA project involved organising the allotees, mobilising funds, land levelling, digging of wells/borewells, starting cultivation and eventually handing over the management of the facilities to the allotees “gram sabhas”. That is what I did with ASSEFA between 1982 to 1987 in Bihar and later on the Rajasthan/MP border. Similar projects were started in several other states and a Training Centre was established in Dattapur, to train community workers. I used to come here regularly to train them, even as I was learning to run these projects myself.
Vinoba had a sense of wordplay and he loved to pun. When he wanted to improve things in the Khadi sector and get away from the bureaucracy of the official Khadi Commission, he set up an organisation called Khadi Mission. He used to say, Sarvodaya work is “asar-kari” (effective) because it is a-sarkari (non-governmental). One of my regrets is that despite a number of opportunities to meet Vinoba in person, during my trips to Dattapur, I never met him. I was hesitant because he was by then quite frail and only a few selected people could see him. Though I was offered, I felt I should “do something significant” before I deserve to see him. Alas, it never happened. I tell this story to Anand, Samir and Girish as we walk into Vinoba’s residence, now a memorial. Just a single bare room, but such spiritual power.
We leave Paunar at about 5 pm. The plan was to go to a village en route Nagpur. But on the spur of the moment, I suggest we drive instead to Sevagram via the direct shortcut, which by-passes Wardha and attend the evening prayers at the Ashram. I felt this would give Girish also the same start as I had the previous day. So we head to Sevagram. On the way, we pass JC Kumarappa’s Ashram where his experiments in rural industries were tried. We stop by at the Goras Bhandaar, an outlet of the Go Seva Sangh,which is engaged in the service of the cow. Lovely, low-fat milk is what we have instead of tea and by 5.45, get to Sevagram Ashram in time for the evening prayers. Les people than yesterday, so intimate all the more. The prayers begin with the Japanese Buddhist chant for world peace Om Namyo Hom Renge Kyom! and end with Raghupati Rahgav Raja Ram. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcvtxFzr50U&feature=BF&playnext=1&list=QL&index=1
At 6.45pm, silently we get up as the prayers end and bid good bye to the Ashram and drive quietly to Nagpur. None of us spoke for a long time.
By 8.30 pm, we have settled down in the guest house of the Visveshwarayya National Institute of technology, with a lovely wooded campus. No dinner for me. Just the blog!