My Yatra is turning out to be less on foot that I had thought. I had hoped every day I will walk about 20 km and drive about 80km. The idea was to walk through habitations (villages, small towns, cities) and drive between habitations. In practice, the walk through villages and small towns is so marked by stops, that there is no exercise. And in a big city like Nagpur, walking along the main roads is futile, because all one is facing is traffic, noise and fumes, without being able to meet people. So, it makes sense to drive from one “stopping area” to and another in a city. On the other hand, outside a city, walking between habitations makes little sense, as one does not end up meeting any one. So, all said and done, I found I am walking less than 10km a day. To correct this, today I adopted another rule. Every morning, after getting ready, I will walk to an inspiring place, may be a temple (of any religion) or a memorial or a natural sight. Ideally, this should be an hour away, so one gets to walk about 5 km, the first thing in the morning.
So, we started the day by visiting the Shirdi Sai Temple at the banks of the Vainganga river. It was Thursday, which is Sai Baba’s day. Anand, Samir. Tiwari and Kabir also joined me for the walk. The temple was neat and clean and not crowded yet. We paid homage and then sat on the marble floor for a while, eyes closed, trying to “get peace”, an elusive quest.
On the way back I realized I knew next to nothing about Sai Baba. So over breakfast, I decided to switch on my laptop and look him up in Wikipedia. I was surprised to know that he was relatively recent (1838-1918) and that though his origin is not known, most likely he was a Muslim, who adopted the Sufi tradition.
“Sai Baba had no love for perishable things and his sole concern was self-realization. He remains a very popular saint, and is worshipped by people around the world. He taught a moral code of love, forgiveness, helping others, charity, contentment, inner peace, and devotion to God and guru. Sai Baba’s teaching combined elements of Hinduism and Islam: he gave the Hindu name Dwarakamayi to the mosque he lived in, practiced Hindu and Muslim rituals, taught using words and figures that drew from both traditions, and was buried in a Hindu temple in Shirdi. One of his well known epigrams, “Sabka Malik Ek ” (“One God governs all”), is associated with both the Bhagavad-Gita and Sufism. He always uttered “Allah Malik” (“God is King”).”
So we drove off towards Gondia, the next district. It is far from Mumbai – almost 1100 kms. On the way, we stopped by at the village called Mohagaon Devi in Mohadi block.
The first young man we met was Atul Sakhawade, 24, who had passed 10th class and then did a one year course as fitter in a private Industrial Training Centre (ITC). at Bhandara. But now he was engaged in farm activity because he could not get a steady job as a fitter. He did get jobs in small workshops but could not get timely payment of his wages as small workshops themselves face a lot of cashflow uncertainty . On the other hand, if he goes to a big city, it is difficult to survive as he has to work for 12 hours a day and the cost of living was pretty steep. He could barely manage to survive for couple of months and had to come back to village. He would like to get employment in his trade at better working and living conditions. Why not start his own workshop? “ I don’t have the money and I don’t have the experience. “
Bablu Mulchand Lende having a family of four with school going girl and a boy. He has a farm land of 2 ½ acres with a alternate income source of Tea Stall. The tea stall is predominantly active when the farmers are not engaged in agricultural operations, and the tea stall becomes a place to gather and talk. Bablu earns Rs.120 per day of which Rs. 20 is cash sale and Rs. 100 is on credit. The credit cycle ranges between 15-30 days. The wife goes for wage labour and earns Rs 50 to Rs 80 a day depending upon the availability of work in the adjoining factories in the area. He believes in value of education and will push his children for higher studies for gainful employment in the neighboring town.
By this time many villagers surrounded us out of curiousity. Rajesh Balbudhe, Kashiram Bavne, Ramkrishna Bavne and others started talking to us. They informed us that 75% of the villagers are farmers having land from 2 acres to 8 acres where they produce Paddy, Chana, Lakholi and Tur dal. Practically every farmer household had one or two cows and the milk fetches them Rs. 14/- per liter (at 4.0% fat level). The yield of paddy is 40 bags (of 75 kgs each) in two acres i.e. 15 quintals per acre. This year the paddy was picked up at around Rs. 930 per quintal, which was sharp drop over the last year price of Rs 1560 per quintal. Almost 80% of the farmers had taken loans from a co-operative society @ 14% per annum with mandatory crop insurance. They complained bitterly that they did not get any insurance claim even the paddy yield was affected due to late rains.
Social Audit of NREGA.
On enquiring on their day to day living expenses till such time as the harvest comes, they talked about the wages they get under the Rojgar Hami Yojana (as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Program is called in Maharashtra, based on the earlier state level Employment Guarnatee Scheme). Suddenly an older man started shouting and said the scheme was a fraud because they were getting less than what they are supposed to. Others also nodded in agreement. This was the opportunity to do a social audit, I thought and went to the vehicle and got my laptop out and switched it on, with wireless internet connectivity. Anand and Samir asked the villagers present to get their job cards and the post office pass book to verify the if the wages deposited in their accounts are as per what the government records say.
I went into the browser and keyed in www.nrega.nic.in . When the opening screen of the website came on, I clicked on Maharashtra on the left side of the screen where all the states are listed. Then on the next screen, I clicked Bhandara from the list of districts on the left side. The following statistics came up for Bhandara:
District : BHANDARA
|Employment provided to households:||47,507|
|Person-days [in Lakh]:|
|Total fund: Rs.||31.79 Crore.|
|Expenditure: Rs.||15.91 Crore.|
|Total works taken up:||544|
|Works in progress :||394|
Then I clicked on Mohadi under the list of Blocks and finally, on the next screen, clicked on Mohagaon Devi under the list of villages.
The menu of reports came on. I then clicked on the Job Card Verification option and sure enough the full list of 489 job cards covering 1509 family members was displayed.
By this time I was surrounded by at least 20 people. So I decided first read the names of about 40 job card holders at random out of the 489, asking if these were “real people” and in every case, was met with an increasing crescendo of “hauji”, with ever widening eyes. Is there any single name which is wrong or false? They said “No”. Any name which is that of a rich man? The answer was again a resounding “No”. Just as I asked triumphantly, “Any other problem?” somebody said “Kasiram Bavade is dead. How come his name is there?”
I looked up the name and I found that against his name an unusually high number of work days – 304 was shown and the payment was Rs 20,514. Could this be a fraud showing a dead man working for a 304 days? I went into the person-wise payment record under the job card no 255 and found that actually five members of his family were shown as workers.
Then I searched down the list and after many “page downs” still could not find his name. As I was doing this, a young fellow who was standing behind me said “Why can”t you just search for his name?” I realized this fellow knew how to use computers, so I asked him to join me in finding Bavne’s name, as the search facility did not exist. Finally, at row 736, we found the names of Kalpana Bavne, Dilip, Baraja, Mahadev, Lalita and Sachin Bavne listed under the Kasiram Bavne Job Card. This met with much approval from the crowd. But I was not finished. I then read out the work they had done “pachgaon road tey pandargaon paryant pandan rasta” and the crowd said that Kasiram’s family members had indeed worked on them.
But to me this was not enough so we requested somebody to Kasiram’s house and bring the post office pass books which showed that the money was received. We totaled all the receipts by hand and found that the number added up to Rs 20,845, pretty close to but not exactly the Rs 20, 514 in the computer. The discrepancy may have been due to the fact that the computer date and the post office date may not be identical. We asked the family member whether they received all the money and they said “Yes.” Indeed for many others persons we checked the payment in the pass book against the amount in the computer. All pass! We asked the old man if he was satisfied, and he too, smiled.
I explain to my colleagues that what we did was a “social audit” of NREGA, one of the provisions of the Act itself. I wonder if it is possible for government to be more transparent than this. Yet, it does not mean that NREGA is 100% free of corruption or malpractice, but it really is up to us citizens (or rural-jans) to use such detailed information available in the public domain, to ensure that government program benefits indeed reach the poor.
Helplessness is part of living for farmers
After this, we drove further on the main road and then went about 8 km inside to arrive at Sejgaon, a village with 100% farming activity with only one crop taken a year, no irrigation and mainly BPL families. We spoke to many farmers, of whom typical was Kanhailal Gopal Patle who was 10th pass, father of two girls, having 7 acres of land. Paddy was his main produce. He had taken a loan of Rs 25,000 from the cooperative, but actually got only Rs 14,000, since he owed Rs 11,000 from the previous year. The untimely rains in November and resultant pests had decimated their only crop. He managed to produce 27 bags, of which he would keep 12 for consumption, 3 for seed and sold 12 bags (of 50 kg each). For this he would get about Rs 6000. So how would he repay the co-operative bank loan? “Either by selling part of my land or my bullocks” was the stark answer.
What is the price of land here? Rs 50,000 per acre. Why so much if the yield is so low, I asked? “We are on the tail of the Kharbanda Canal”, so some times we get water. This was news! I tried to explain to them about participatory irrigation management (PIM) and how it can help them receive water even as a tail-ender village. I opened my laptop and logged on to the website of the Development Support Centre (DSC) www.dscindia.org an NGO in Gujarat which I am associated with and which is a leader in PIM. From the screen I showed them how farmers were organized into irrigation cooperatives and took care of the repair and maintenance of the canal network, distribution of water, conflict resolution and collection of water charges. Would they like this in their village? No answer.
With a feeling of sorrow, we left the village and headed for Gondia. On the way Anand and Samir said “We now started realizing how people can have ricj=h resources and yet be poor. How can we make a difference to such villagers and their livelihoods?” I used the opportunity to explain to them that it is futile to offer standard micro-credit in such cases. We need to offer livelihood finance – which is lumpy and long-term, to use my own phrase in my article, http://www.jstor.org/pss/4417256 in The Economic and Political Weekly, Oct 8, 2005. These farmers need a lot of technical assistance to increase their paddy productivity from the present 1.5 tons/ha to at least double as much. But that needs assured irrigation and for that this village needs collective action to make good use of canal water. Anand asked “Now isn’t that what the Livelihood Triad all about?” I smiled wryly.