Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Niyamgiri Times : A truth of NREGS

A 'JCB' rests in one corner of
Bissamcuttack during the day

The same 'JCB' works
hard under the shrouds of night

What does a JCB have to do with NREGS? It does. In fact, it (or should we call it – she), she is the biggest beneficiary of NREGS – at least in this part of Orissa.

Contractor gets contract from government under NREGS scheme. Ideally, under the scheme a contractor needs to get his work done from job card holders from the village. A beautiful model!

Some courageous journalism and putting 2 and 2 together reveals the following modus operandi-

  • 1. Contractor gets contract.
  • 2. Goes to village, employs people for 7 (give-or-take-a-few) days.
  • 3. Takes the Job Cards under the pretext of some requirement for disbursing the money.
  • 4. Villagers get some money. But, don’t get the job cards back.
  • 5. At night, the contractor brings up his A-game and A-grade worker – the JCB, which in a night does work equivalent to 10-15 man-days.
  • 6. Work gets booked under NREGS.
  • 7. JCB (read, contractor earns the proceeds)
I know, some readers have found loopholes and IT process which won’t allow this to happen. But, the villagers are so gullible that this actually happens. A few days back, someone came to Bardaguda village and demanded Rs 500 per household in the name of Forest Department (or was it NABARD), and went away with the money.

For those who still refuse to belive this is happening in OUR India… have a look at 10 loopholes of NREGS implementation and a silver lining.

But, I say this is just 'A' truth. I have started believing that there are no absolute truths. Another truth is, the canteen owner (where I have my daily meals) does not get any interested people to work. Imagine! People living below-poverty-line for years, refuse to work as waiters in canteen at Rs 6000 per month! Their logic is simple. When they get foodgrains at Rs 2/kg, what is the need to sweat!

Yet another truth is that my interviews with village households reveals that their incomes have increased by Rs 1000 in the few months of implementation of NREGS. [Rs 1000 per annum is a significant income for these families with annual earnings of Rs 10,000 or less]

So is NREGS good? Orissa has been a case study in poor implementation of NREGS, still, it has helped the tribals to some extent.

There are more questions than answers. And, I am looking for questions, not answers.

Feb 16, 2010 Bissamcuttack, Orissa. TAS Rural Stint, Harsha Trust

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Niyamgiri Times

A part of Niyamgiri Hill range

For the last 20 days, I've been working in Bissamcuttack, Orissa with Harsha Trust, under the aegis of Sir Ratan Tata Trust. Never mind the details of my job, basically, I go out and talk to villagers to understand their lot... something to do with social development.

This hill in the picture is part of the large Niyamgiri hill that has been in the news. Vedanta wants to mine these hills for its Lanjigarh Aluminum refinery. But, these hills are 'habitated' by the Dongaria Kondha Tribe and are the only source of livelihood for them. In fact, a tribal (kondha - a close cousin of the Dongaria Kondha) told me that Niyamgiri was the biggest hill range [in the world?, in India? - not very clear].

Admittedly, I am much more confused about 'development' than I was before starting work.
  • Is it really 'development' to keep the tribes away from the mainstream?
  • Isn't industrialization going to bring in the money to help the poor?
  • Is it fair for us to take away the only source of livelihood of a people living in their natural habitat. Imagine, if you had worked only in IT industry and one day someone said - 'boom!, no more IT coz I'm taking away all the resources for that' - that would shatter our world. Taking Niyamgiri away is something similar for them.
  • And, how come the land that a tribal has been living on, and living off since generations, suddenly belong to a company OR the government because someone happens to find something worthwhile under it, like minerals?
  • But, isn't industry going to generate employment, for a very poor and unemployed state like Orissa? Wouldn't it benefit a larger number of poor - who may not be living on this hill range, but do look up to industry and government for a source of livelihood?
  • Had man always thought of preserving the natural habitats, wouldn't we still be living in jungles?
  • In fact, isn't it unfair to the tribals that we want to live a comfortable modern life, but leave them to their lot, and for how long?
  • So, is it the Dongaria Kondha who want to not come down Niyamgiri OR is it the NGOs and 'well-wishers' who want to sign online petitions sitting in AC offices, while a tribal goes and looks for firewood for his chulha?
  • Well, I guess everyone should be able to decide for themselves (isn't having options, what development is all about?). But then, how does a tribal know what the mainstream holds for him? How does someone who has never had a gulab-jamun (or hamburger - for the urbanites) know if he wants to have one?
So, what really is development?

Too many questions... the journey has just begun...

Feb 02, 2010 Bissamcuttack, Orissa. TAS Rural Stint, Harsha Trust