Girish wakes me up with a welcome cup of tea. Resourceful as ever, he had persuaded the Guest House cook to start half an hour before the scheduled 7.30 am! We get ready, and head out by 8 am, walking to the Ambedkar Deeksha Bhoomi, about 3 kms away.
As we walk, I think about what a remarkable Constitution we have, so far ahead of its time, and perhaps that is why, the reality of the Republic is far short of the vision. Yet, just to count some of our blessings – universal adult franchise; elected governments at all levels, from Panchayats and Municipalities to States and the Union; an uninterrupted and now largely independent set of elections, making democracy competitive and vibrant; the separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary; fundamental rights; which have in turn resulted in freedom of the media. Yes, there are many things to complain about but many more to be thankful for, and a large part of that goes to our founding fathers, of which Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar was one.
On October 14, 1956, Dr Ambedkar led nearly 380,000 of scheduled caste people to renounce Hinduism and and adopt Buddhism., in a lrage open ground in Nagpur. That spot is known as Deeksha Bhoomi, and in 1991, a memorial was erected there.
As per the entry in Wikipedia “Ambedkar had already declared in 1935 that although he was born as a Hindu he would not die as one. After this declaration, he extensively studied the doctrines of all the major religions to choose Buddhism for him and his followers.
He selected Nagpur for his conversion ceremony, as he explained in his speech at that occasion, because Nagpur was the homeland of Nagpeople who embraced Buddhism and supported it with great efforts in its early period. A ground near Ramdaspeth area in Nagpur was selected for the ceremony. On October 14, 1956, Ambedkar and his wife Mrs.Savita Ambedkar took oath of Three Jewels and Five Precepts from Mahasthavir Chandramani. Ambedkar then gave the oath of Three Jewels, five precepts, and 22 Vows to his thousands of followers.
Ambedkar died on December 6, 1956, just one and a half months after this ceremony. After his death Dr. Ambedkar Smarak Samiti was organized for the management of Deekshabhoomi. The committee decided to build a Stupa at the place as a monument of that ceremony and a mass conversion of people to Buddhism. ”
Inside the stupa, there is a photo exhibition of Dr Ambedkar’s life. I learnt several new things – that he was Labour Minister in the 1942 Government formed by the British. One could also see the close support and influence of his wife Savitabai, popularly called Mayeesaheb. I also learnt from Girish that despite being the architect of the Constitution, Dr Ambedkar never won a Lok Sabha election and was inducted as Law Minster by Prime Minister Nehru, through the Rajya Sabha.
Duly elevated, we headed for breakfast nearby, Nagpur is famous for its poha (beaten rice) which is sauted with potato, chillies and choriander, and served with a slice of lemon. Hungry from overnight, I polished off two plates, not realising that it was Rs 15 each. With tea, my pocket was lighter by Rs 37. Need to be careful if I have to stay within my NREGA wage rate of Rs 100 per day.
Then we drove to the Mahal area, in the old city, so called because of the palace of the Bhosale kings there. Had a series of conversations:
Street stories – flower seller; tea stall, blind man
Flower seller Keval Morande grew up in Tumsar and at age 16 decided that he will get into the flower business. He stocks both traditional garlands, loose flowers for puja and also cut flowers, arranged into bouquets and other patterns. He tells us all about his business enthusiastically. His daily sales vary from Rs1000 to 4000, the latter being marriage days. He pays a footpath licence fee of Rs 1200 per year plus about Rs 4-500 per month “hafta”. His daily purchase is Rs 1000 to 2500worth of flowers from the Netaji Market. Gladiolis come from Pune. Orchids from the northeast. Bouquets stay for two days flower malas for three days.
I ask him – if you had a cooler to keep the unsold flowers overnight, how long will they last? He says, as much as 10 days, but the cooler has to be free of air flow, otherwise flowers can get damaged.. Three people work here from 8am to 11pm. Karigar is paid 200 per day but super-skilled flower arrangement karigars come from Hyderabad during the marriage season and charge Rs 4000 for two days. Though he has an a/c in SBI, he has not taken any loan and is proud of it. He says he would rather use his own money. He bought a second hand motorbike with own savings. What does he think about the future? “It looks fine to me. So far I have worked hard and got what I wanted.”
Vasanta Parate is from Chandrapur, and he ran away from his home to come to Nagpur, became a helper in a welding shop and later becand eventually became an expert welder. But he gave up welding to became an auto rickshaw driver. Vasanta had a major accident 15 yrs ago. He hired a lawyer, without paying any fee or expenses in advance, to represent his case to the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal (MACT). Within nine months, he got Rs 1 lakh from the MACT, with the lawyer taking 20 percent as fees. Hospital charges were paid through borrowings from friends and relatives. How was the treatment at the public hospital? His wife says – “They were very kind, no one took any money and doctors used to check twice a day.”
Vasanta now runs a tea stall on a stationary four wheeler hand cart with his wife. She makes tea and he delivers it in a 200 metre radius to various offices and schools. He says his income is Rs 2500 pm but his wife tells us she sells 100-120 cups of tea for Rs 4 each, and some packaged snacks. So he probably makes Rs 250-300 per day. He has two daughters, both in school. He tells us he will educate them till as much as they wish. “After all I educated my younger brother through ITI and now he is an electrical contractor, with 25 people working for him.” Why does he not do welding? “It involves climbing and bending in odd places and after my multiple fractures in the accident, I can’t do it.” Woiuld he consider buying an insurance policy? “How can I? I don’t save that much. Only if someone comes to my bandi and takes Rs 10 or 20 a day from me I can save. What we keep in the tin box at home all goes in expenses.”
How a blind man makes a living
Sharad Jatak is fifty-ish, and blind since birth. His wife is a peon in a school. He has one daughter and he and his wife decided to educate her as much as possible. She is now a graduate, studying for a law degree, and is working as a tele-marketer for an ICICI bank franchisee. He used to make dahi (curd) and sell it from home, but slowly that business came down as packaged dahi became popular. He was helped by the National Association of the Blind, to get a road side pucca shop and now he runs that, along with a phone booth. He makes about Rs 100 per day as a net margin. He says he is satisfied with life. People have been kind to him and his daughter is likely to become a lawyer and get settled.
Two politicos, or so we thought
Raghu Itkelwar is a smartly dressed young man was hanging out at Vasnata Parate’s tea bandi, listening to out conversation very intently. As we were leaving, I asked him what he does. “Farming”, he said. Both Girish and I became very curious to see a smart young man saying proudly, he does farming. On closer examination, however, it became clear that he meant, he has 25 acres of land tilled by sharecroppers and he looks after the buying of inputs and sale of produce. He opens up and says he is from a “political” familiy, being the grand son of Vasantrao Itkelwar, MLA from Umrer, and nephew of Vilasrao Shrungar Pawar, of Bhandara, former Education Minister of the state. The obvious question “why did you not join politics?” evokes a response from him which indicates the disdain with which common people look at politics. He said it is all about filling ones pockets and he does not wish to do that through politics. (See video interview, to be uploaded).
I had requested my colleagues who lived in Nagpur to get me to meet someone at the middle level in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), since this is their headquarter and I wanted to understand their ideology “from the horse’s mouth”. After several calls, Samir had fixed up with one Dr Shripad Keshav Chitale and we make our way to his residence. He turns out to be an intense man, obviously a Konkan Chitpawan Brahmin whose ancestors moved to Nagpur several generations ago. He answered our questions about the RSS perfunctorily, saying his own passion is botany and archaeology. He is an ardent traveler in pursuit of both looking for unusual plant species as also for locating neglected temples and monuments. He has written 27 pamphlet style books and he hands us one on “Temples Dedicated to Parsuram”. Once he discovered we were from an organisation trying to promote livelihoods for poor people, he held forth on the scope of rural and eco-tourism as a major source of livelihoods. If Dr Chitale could, he would convert a few farmers’ houses in every village into a “bed and breakfast” facility. Interesting, but we did not get to know much about the RSS!
It was time for lunch. We find an Arya Bhavan near our next appointment and order thalis. But even as I ordered it and looked at the price (Rs 65, modest for the heart of a major city), I knew I had breached my budget for the day by Rs 2 already. Fortunately, at 3.30 pm, it was my last meal for the day. Moreover, yesterday I had lucked out – had managed in only Rs 75, including breakfast and late lunch and even a Rs 10 glass of juice.
Fund-raising for Producers’ Company
On Jan 30 I had met the Wardha Soya and Cotton Producers’ Co (WSCPC) Ltd farmers and learnt about their plan to set up a mini-cotton gin and a mini soybean oil solvent extraction plant, with a total investment of Rs 600 lakh in land, building, plant and machinery. The WSCPC Ltd was going to have 2500 farmers shareholders and the paid up capital would go up to Rs 25 lakh from the current Rs 90,000. But even that would be too low for raising a loan of Rs 600 lakh. I impressed on the farmers that they would need to raise at least half that amount as share capital or quasi-equity (a term which took a while to explain), before a bank gives a loan for the other half. One source for quasi-equity could be social investors.
I remembered that two years back the PANIIT alumni association had got in touch with me as they wished to sponsor a cotton spinning plant in Yavatmal district, based on the micro-spinning technology developed by Kannan of Vortex, the IIT Chennai incubated company. A call to my friend Pradeep Gupta in Delhi landed me the contact of Sanjay Meshram in Nagpur, who was from IIT Mumbai, 1985. I had called Sanjay the previous day and explained what we wanted and he ahd agreed to meet us today. So I we also invited three office bearers of the WSCPC Ltd from Deoli and went along with a few of my colleagues. Anand was quick to reposition Management Trainee Ravi Dhanuka from IRMA as a special executive to work on the WSCPC Ltd and three other such producer companies coming up. Also present were Shriram, the IGS manager and Milind, the executive incharge of the company.
Sanjay Meshram runs an engineering consulting business and is also the Central India distributor for Exxon Mobil. He is also the Governor of Rotary District 3055 (Central India) and the coordinator of the TIE (The Indus Entrepreneur network) Nagpur Chapter. He heard out the presentation of the idea and then offered to do what he could in terms of support from several sources, including Rotary and TIE. He told us that the original micro-spinning plant never took off and the funds collected for it, about Rs 10 lakh, are lying with the Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Rural Industrialisation (M-GIRI) in Wardha.
We thanked him and moved on. But to ensure the others’ trip to Nagpur was useful, I sent them to meet officers in the Bank of India Zonal Office, since tha bank is the lead bank in the Wardha district and has a branch near Deoli and would most likely be the financier.
As I am writing this blog two days later, I can add that Ravi told us the next day that they had a good meeting in the Bank of India. Also, Sanjay Meshram called the next day to inform us that “Desh” Deshpande, the famous technpreneur, was in Nagpur for a TIE event and had expressed a desire to visit Sevagram. Sanjay wanted to know if we could meet Desh there. I told him we were already on the way to Bhandara and conveyed my regards to Desh, whom I had met three years ago when I gave a keynote speech o social entrepreneurship at the annual event of the Deshpande Foundation in Hubli-Dharwar. But we arranged for Ravi to meet Desh and Sanjay at M-GIRI, Wardha and at least the put the WSCPS Ltd idea on his radar screen. I also put Ravi in touch with Pravesh Sharma, the IAS officer who is now the Managing Director of the Small Farmers’ Agri-Business Consortium (SFAC), and Pravesh responded within a day.
Bank of Maharashtra’s Self-Employment Training Institute (M-SETI )
Samir has organised a meeting here at 5 pm we are ushered into the room of the Deputy Director Mohan Pande. He tells us about M-SETI. They run free, residential one month programs for batches of 25 students, boys and girls, usually ten per year. The trades offered are desktop publishing and financial accounting and Tally; computer hardware repair and maintenance; electronic goods and mobile phones repair; electrical goods repair; two wheeler repair; photography and video shooting; tourist guide; floral decoration; decorative candles; stained glass painting and glass etching; and two exclusively for women candidates – tailoring and dress designing and beauty treatment.
Since inception in 2003-04, they have trained a total of 1451 candidates, of which 1003 set up own business, an astoundingly high success rate of about 70%. But only 117 or less than 12% of those who started got any bank loans. What is the reason for this? Mr Gajbhiye, incharge of financial inclusion in the Bank, explains that they don’t have Bank of Mahrashtra branches every where, and other banks do not particularly care for M-SETI trainees. Even their own branch managers need prodding to give a loan.
I ask Mr Pande about the cost per trainee. He initially says Rs 3000 to 4000 per trainee-month, but later on discloses that they hardly pay any rent for this ITI building and its hostel and don’t even pay for electricity. He increases his own estimate of actual costs to Rs 5,000 per trainee month including meals and hostel. As the program is meant only for candidates from below poverty line families, this subsidy may be justified, but another model could be one of cross-subsidy – charge more than cost to those who can afford to pay and then subsidise the poorer ones.
In the meanwhile, Mr Rajiv Deshpande, a chartered accountant and Board member of the Bank of Maharashtra arrives. He introduces himself and says that as a follower of Smt Nirmala Deshpande, a long term associate of Vinoba Bhave, he has been involved with good works. He also brought with him his uncle, Shri Jagdish Supekar, now with Bal Jagat, Nagpur, a follower of the RSS leader Nanaji Deshmukh, who ran the Deendayal (Upadhyaya) Shodh Sansthan, Chitrakoot. Mr Deshpande also brought along Anand, a surgeon who was involved with social work. Others present included Ms Paranjpe from Professional Association for Conservation Agriculture, and several bank officers, and of course, the 25 trainess of the current course – financial accounting. Three trainees from Gadhchiroli, Bhandara and Wardha spoke, one girl and two boys. It was touching to hear where they came from and what dreams they have.
After a set of introductions, I was asked to speak and I decided that given the mixed audience, I will do so briefly and leave the rest of the time for audience participation. So I delivered my main message –
+++ India has had a great decade in the last ten years, with GDP growth rate rising to 8%pa, and India’s place in the world becoming more prominent – whether it is at the World Economic Forum, Davos; the G-20, the Copenhagen/Cancun Summits or the the UN Security Council. the growth of the GDP is desirable but it needs two correctives – it has to be more socially equitable and more environmentally sustainable. Unless we restore the growth path to fulfil these two criteria, we will be heading for social unrest and irreparable environmental crises. If growth has to be equitable, one of the best ways to make it so is by enabling those at the base of the pyramid to access financial services – savings, credit, insurance and money transfer services. Thus financial inclusion is a necessary condition (though by itself not sufficient) for inclusive growth. So what is the link of this with my Shodh Yatra ? One is trying to understand what can make India’s growth more equitable and more sustainable.
It is nearly 7 pm and I withdraw after the talk for a conference call of the Board of the Microfinance Institutions Network (MFIN). Thanks to the mobile phone and internet, I am able to participate in most of the crucial meetings while on the Yatra.
At 8 pm, we are dropped off to the VNIT Guest House. I realise that I have to wash clothes today otherwise I will not have a fresh set to wear tomorrow. So I attend to that first, rubbing a Rin detergent bar on my kurta, pyjama, underwear and socks, and using a bucket to soak and rinse. Then I wring the clothes and put them out to dry overnight. As there is no dinner to be had, I attend to the blog.