Chhattisgarh is the state of adivasis (indigenous tribal people). Carved out of Madhya Pradesh as recently as November 2000, about a third of its (2001) population of 20 million are adivasis. The undivided Bastar district was the district most symbolic of tribals. The district was so large that it has been divided into five districts now. The name Bastar evokes forests and tribals among mainstream Indians. Both the evocations are true, but with a difference. The forests continue to be lush green and dense in their pristine glory. The tribal men, however, even in interior villages, are now dressed in dhoti-bandi, the regular wear for rural India, some even in western-style shirt and trousers.
Though they continue to live in the same place as they did earlier, their livelihoods are more agrarian, and less forest-based. Their use of city-made goods is like any rural household of comparable income. The only noticeable difference was that mobile phone usage was less than one in ten. As tribals are allowed to brew their own drink from rice or mahua flowers and store 5 litres at home, we found that even during the day time, many had had a drink, though they were able to hold a regular conversation.
On Day 6, as usual we start our day with a walk to an inspirational place. Today, we chose the “Triveni Parisar” which is a memorial to Rajnandgaon’s three major literary figures – Padumlal Pannalal Bakshi, Baldev Prasad Mishra, Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh.
Mujhe bhram hota hai ki pratyek patthar main chamkta heera hai;
Har ek chhati mein atma adhira hai;
Mujhe bhram hota hai ki pratyek vani mein mahakayya- peeda hai;
Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh, “Mujhe Kadam Kadam Par”
(“I imagine there is a shining diamond in every stone;
That every breast has unfulfilled soul;
I imagine every voice has great poetry in it – that of pain. ”
From “At every step, I imagine”)
The three busts are erected in the causeway between the two lakes (Buda Talab and Naya Talab). The Digvijay College campus is situated further along and we could see various departmental buildings.
Institutional Building Blocks of India’s economy, polity and society
In Chhattisgarh, in addition to looking at individuals, I spent the days largely looking at institutions – the building blocks of India’s economy, polity and society – producers’ groups, firms and cooperatives, panchayats and municipal bodies; and bhajan mandalis and NGOs. The account, and thus the conclusions, are obviously anecdotal, but at least they are random, as in no case was there a pre-selection or prior notice of my visit to the organisation. I have chosen states/regions and districts which are among the bottom quartile, and once within the district, gone off the main roads to smaller and less visited places and on top that, turned up with no advance notice. So, I believe, though not a statistical sample, this is at least not a stage-managed view of how things work.
Civil Society Institutions:
The participants were S. Milind—from Upkar, Aparna Kshatri—Samudaik Vikas Samiti, Pratima Lonkar—Lakholi, Janak Chaturvedi—Jankalyan, Eklavya Tiwari—Jankalyan, Lakki Shriwastava—Prayatna, Ravi Shukla– Prayatna, Thakur—CIDP, Smt Sima Varle—Samudaik Vikas Sansthan, Abdul Jalil– Samudaik Vikas, Bhavesh Buddhhadev—CG Sarvajan Vikas, and Sushil Shrivastava—Srijan.
All the participants gave their self- introduction briefly The most interesting description was that of the Samudayik Viikas Sansthan (CDS), which is engaged in savings and credit work with women in the slums of Rajnandgaon. They establish neighbourhood groups (NHGs), and all NHGs in a ward make an Area Development Society(ADS) and these ADS’s federate into a Community Development Society. Sima Varle of CDS explained their whole structure and process. The total amount of savings mobilised is about Rs 7 crore and this is all leant out. The interest spread is enough to pay for the 40 odd staff of CDS.
Then I talked about the purpose of my Shodha Yatra -“an inquiry into the lives and livelihoods of India’s common people.” I said the the motive behind this meeting is to have open dialogue with NGO activists at large. In my introductory remarks, I said “Today growth is happening but it is not Samrudhhi , which means equitable growth, in the true sense. The growth which is inequitable and which causes harm to the environment is dangerous for society at large. The environment should not degrade due to the growth. We should use the natural resources in such a way that they should be available to the generations to come. Now the question is why the Aam Adami (common man)/ society is not raising questions? Why Aam Adami / society are silent spectators? ”
In response Milind and Pratima said ” The Aam Aadmi is not silent but the people having power (leader, beaurocrat) are not listening to them. This is also a reason to turn towards violence. Every child knows that teachers do not come to school. But the officers come to see only when the students or parents put up a road blockade. There is corruption in top levels, the top level people threw some bites toward the Aam Aadmi. But the Aam Aadmi fears that if he raised his voice whatever he is getting he may loose that as well.
Sushil Shrivastava said, ” There are many types of NGOs – some are good, some are bad. To work for the society is a challenging task. If NGOs work even 50-60% then the administration and the media targets them like anything.”
Bhavesh said” If the administration has its say then they will not allow NGOs to work. But thanks to the conditions put forth by funding agencies, the administration has to reach the NGOs to get the work done. But here the administration plays the trick and puts conditions suitable to government. There are examples that bureaucrats, leaders have established their own NGO’s to siphon off the money.”
I said I am working as development worker for last 30 years. First 15 yrs worked in NGO’s today the NGO’s are having bad name. After that I worked for 15 yrs in MFIs, today the MFIs are taking beating. Slowly one trap is being prepared around us. For example, If you want to open a school you have to have 5 acres of land.
Several participants said that we should help in changing the system. We should not suppress the leaders of the society we should help them in every possible manner. The questions like distribution of electricity, drinking water, micro finance institutions are still exists. The system is big, but the users are not united. The user of these facilities feels that they need not to pay for the services availed. Anything that is given free does not have any value and the beneficiary become non-committal. The organizations working in the field should try to work with innovative and interesting ways. Examples like participatory irrigation management and crop diversification, should be scaled up.
In the end, I thanked them and tried to summarise the discussion by defining “good development” is that >>> which is based on need of the masses/society >>> which has motivated people>>> which is based on collective action and >>> which is participatory in approach
The next day, in Dongargaon, a block headquarter in Rajnandgaon district, we saw a different type of civil society organisation – traditional, indigenous, “good works” organised by the people. At a roadside pandal, done up vey tastefully, with a neat, flower pot lined aisle in the middle, dividing the sitting area into two parts, one each for men and women. On the stage were seven women dressed in identical saris and four men in identical dress, the women singing and the men playing musical instruments. After a few minutes of listening, I realised they were singing chaupais from the Tulsidas Rama Charitra Manas or Ramayana.
When we looked around, we found several references to “Manas Samitis”, and eventually figured out that virtually all villages in the non-tribal part of the district have established these “bhajan mandalis”, so that they can inculcate the values portrayed by Bhagwan Rama. The village mandalis hold readings every week and once or twice a year, there is a gathering at the block headquarter, where the village mandalis have a “Manas” reading competition. The best one gets a prize of Rs 1000. What is amazing is that these are self-organising bodies, with no central control. They form themselves, raise their own money and manage their own affairs, and in that sense, are truly voluntary.
In the neighbourhood was Seva Sahakari Samiti, Dongargaon having an operational area of 20 villages with 4500 members. In CG, paddy is purchased in Mandi or by cooperatives like this, at the minimum support price. The purchase quantity is as per land holding as certified by the Patwari, the village level registrar who keeps the details about the land holding of the farmers. The average yield figures are fixed by the Agriculture Department. The two number s are multiplied to calculate the maximum quantity of paddy that the cooperative will buy from a farmer at the minimum support price. Thus, if the average declared yield is 22 quintals per acre then a farmer with two acres of land will be allowed to sell a maximum of 44 quintals of paddy to the coop.
Last year the coop had procured 63000 quintals of paddy and this year they have already procured 61,239 quintals with an outlay of Rs 6.25 cores. The coop also provides credit for crop cultivation, both in kind, in terms of seed, fertiliser and pesticides and the cash component for wages. They have collected Rs. 84.30 lakhs towards repayment of loan as against Rs. 1.25 cores of disbursement given for the purpose of various agri inputs. The society has a practice of displaying the names of top 20 defaulters on its notice board for general public view. We were told the social embarrassment for the individual defaulter and the village reputation works very well for the timely repayment of the loans.
The entire compound of the coop and the compound of the nearby fair price shop was full of stacks of paddy bags, ten to twelve bags high. They were lying on the ground without palettes, and were uncovered. Any rain and hundreds of quintals would be damaged. We asked the obvious question – “Don’t you have a godown?” The assistant, Mr Yadav politely told us that this was only a purchase point and they send of the paddy to central storage points, which have godowns, and from where the paddy goes to rice mills for processing. “But still, whay happens if there is rain in the few days that the bags are still with you?” Mr Yadav said they have tarpaulin and polythene sheets with which they can cover the bags. However, the damp from below can still seep in as they did not have palettes.
The coop had computerized its paddy purchase operations in a systematic way. Smt. Vibha Hirwani is the computer operator of the coop society. Where did she learn? “Before I got married, I learnt it and here also my in-laws have a computer. I am not on the rolls of the coop, I am a service provider on annual contract, and I earn about Rs 5500 per month”. She happily showed us a number of statements, including the up to date recors of paddy purchased till the day before, from how many farmers, how much payment made, how much loan recovered, how much paddy despatched to processing/warehousing points, and even how many trucks had not reached their destination.
I asked Mr Yadav “How did you manage to do your work without a computer before two years ago?”. He smiled wryly and said “We used to manage somehow. Everyone knew we had limitations.” He was relieved from the donkey work of manual data processing by the computer. Interestingly, one could see that the older man, Mr Yadav, who did not know how to use a computer, was deferential towards the younger computer operator Ms Vibha, addressing her as “Madam”. Knowledge is power!
At the back was the Sahakari Vipanan Evam Prakriya Samiti, Dongargaon, which was a rice distribution coop. It had 855 customers attached to it and out of this 130 are having red ration cards. There are seven types of ration cards – namely Red, Orange, White, Grey, Violet, Yellow and Green. For the poorest of the poor, the government has red coloured card and they are entitled to 35 kg of rice at the rate of Rs.1 per kg. The yellow and orange coloured card holders are entitled to get 23Kg of rice at the rate of Rs. 2 per kg. Organizations have got green cards and are entitled to get 15kg at the rate of Rs.6.25 per kg .The white card holders have to pay Rs. 13 per kg for rice, as against a market price of Rs 15 per kg.
As one can see there is a tremendous arbitrage opportunity here. We met a bunch of hamals (manual loaders) in the yard of the coop and asked them about the ration shop. “Do you get all that they say – 35 kgs rice, 1 kg sugar and 1 kg chana dal?” ” Yes we do, but the shop keeper overcharges. For example, he is supposed to charge Rs 12.86 for sugar and he charges Rs 13. More serious, for rice, he always takes a few rupees more, on the grounds that he does not have change.” Are there any months when you don’t get the ration at all? “It rarely happens, but if does, they give us the previous month’s quota in the following month if we want.”
Minor Forest Produce (MFP) Cooperatives
It is a joy to see such undisturbed pristine forests, and about 44% of the state is reportedly under forest cover. Chhattisgarh has nearly 60,000 sq km (6 million ha) of sal, teak and mixed forests. The Chhattisgarh State Minor Forest Produce Co-Operative Federation Ltd was set up with the objective of promoting trade and development of minor forest produce in the interest of tribal MFP collectors. The main tasks of the Federation are collection and trade of nationalised minor forest produce, such as Tendu leaves and non-nationalised MFP like (imli) tamarind and finally, promotion of cultivation and marketing of medicinal and aromatic plants. How important this is to the tribal economy can be seen from the table below
|Trade Volume of MFP in Chhattisgarh|
Similar to the three tier structure for any cooperative, be it credit or milk, the MFP structure in Chhattisgarh comprises 915 primary MFP cooperative societies, which are agrregated into 32 district level MFP Unions and those in turn federated into the CG State MFP Federation.
Tendu leaves are used as Beedi (indigenous cigarette) wrappers in place of paper. Chhattisgarh is known for producing the best quality Tendu (Diasporas melonoxylon) leaves.. The production of Tendu leaves in Chhattisgarh is between 15 to 20 lakh standard bags (each comprising 1000 bundles of 50 leaves each) annually, which is nearly 20% of the total tendu leaf production of the country. The collection season is from third week of April to last week of May. The collection of tendu leaf was a major source of exploitation in the earlier decades and it was “nationalised”. Since then, the collection of leaves and the payment of the collection wages to the pluckers is done by the primary co-operative society only. Green leaves were handed over at the collection centre to the District MFP Union and then to the State federation for tendering and sale.
Since 2004, the Chhattisgarh Government took a major policy decision that instead of selling plucked leaves stored in bags, the MFP Federation would sell the leaves in advance to the purchaser, who is appointed in advance of collection. The purchaser now takes over and treat the leaves at collection centre, transports and stores in his godowns or the godowns of Forest Department/Federation. After implementation of this policy, 100% of the tendu leaf has been sold in advance to purchasers, leading to the average sale rates increasing every year from Rs 857 per std bag in 2004 to Rs 2182 per std bag in 2010. That is about 12% per annum increase and is not exceptionally good , given inflation rates.
On the way from Kanker, we stopped by at village Ranvatigaon of Bhanupratappur Tahasil. It is a village with 157 odd population. We met Vijaysingh Kuretha resident of nearby Kulharkatta village, who was a member of the MFP primary cooperative, which covered about 10 villages. How much did he spend for the elections? “I went around on bicycle and talked to villagers. I sometimes gave offered them tea, and many times they offered me tea. I did not spend anything.” Was he able to do anything as a member? “Yes, I am able to ensure that our primary gets it full quota for tendu leaf purchase and payment is made to all MFP collectors on time. I even helped with a couple of cases of insurance (all MFP collectors are ensured against accidental death).” So with this experience, would you like to stand for the panchayat? “Let us see. That is a bigger game.”
In three places, we missed seeing in detail the work related to medicinal plants. On the way from Mohal to Manpur in Rajnandgaon district, on the first day, we saw a roadside nursery of medicinal plants run by the Forest Dept but could not stop to see it. In Kondagaon on th second day, we visited the plant of an Ecocert agency. But as it was a Sunday, the owner, Mr had gone to Raipur. In onthe way to Bhanupratapur, we saw a Sanjeevani shop, which was a procurement point and sales point for medicinal herbs but it was closed and it looked like it had not been opened for a long time. Nevertheless, there is a buzz about this and CG has been declared as a “herbal state”.
Gram Panchayats and Nagarpalikas
At the block headquarter town Mohla, we met two volunteers of the Nehru Yuvak Kendra (NYK) – Seema Dwivedi and Govind Prasad. They were earlier contacted by our colleague Manoj Mishra, who has been working in Chhattisgarh for several years. The NYK is a government sponsored NGO, working with youth, promoting sports, help in higher studies and skill upgradation. They informed us that the area is rich with minerals like Iron ore and even has Uranium. We asked if we could visit a village with them and they said we could take a chance. So we all drove 6 kms to village “Metting Pidding Bursa”, Luckily for us, the Panchayat was in session. They welcomed us. The panchayat secretary Sampat Ram Ghavde and many of the panchas were present, including four women and five men.
They told us that the village has 324 families with an average land holding of 3-4 acres. We understood the land categories. The land on the plateau is called Bharri and the land in the valley is called Dhanya. There are about 10 percent people who do not have any land. I asked if they had submitted a claim on that land under the recent Forest Dwellers Rights Act. “Yes, we have submitted 15-20 proposals to the government after identifying some families which had been cultivating forest land for a long time and certifying that by holding a gram sabha. But no response has come from the government yet,”.
The women panchas Smt. Sukhami Dhurve and Gendabai Padme gave details about the savings self-help groups. They have started small saving schemes with minimum of Rs.10 per member per month and are giving the accumulated amount as loan to its members @ 3% pm and to non members @ 5% pm interest rate. The SHG is also implementing the Mid Day Meal scheme in this village. The government schemes like regular old age pension, Sukhad Sahara Pension (for widows) are being implemented in this village.
The panchas told us that young people have less liking toward farming. We inquired about the youth joining the Naxal movement in the area. We had a quick reply from an old man saying “Yadi ped ki jad majbut hai to tahani hilti nahi aur girti nahi”. (If the trunk of tree is strong then the branches will not fall) and the village youth are not attracted neither dragged in the naxal movement. But they were unwilling to discuss more on the topic. We thanked them and left.
This blog is to be continued, and will cover discussions with the Chairperson of the Kondagaon Muncipality, the President of the Marketing Cooperative, and also two NGO supported handicraft producer organisations.