Category Archives: Fieldwork Diary

Life in Katiki, Andhra Pradesh: An Awakening

Bhaskar Simha L N visited Katiki, Andhra Pradesh to work with SAMATA in pursuance of the field work component of the Master of Public Policy programme. He reflects on his experiences and what he carried back with him. 

Home to tribal communities for many years now, Eastern ghats are rich in  mineral resources. One such place which houses the tribal community is a village called ‘Katiki’.  Situated on top of a valley at a distance of seven kilometers from Borra caves, Katiki is accessible only through jeep, bike or a long walk.  The village comes under the jurisdiction of Borra Panchayat, Anantgri Manda in Vizag District. With a population of around 180 people and without any basic amenities such as roads, toilets, and drinking water, Katiki in itself is a case study. Not just Katiki, the villages around that are a reflection of Katiki.

Summary of 21 days trip to Vizag and Katiki

The journey began with a lot of expectations about learning new things which at the end of it, came out to be true. Since I went with zero presumptions about the place and the issues that people face, I was able to work well and understand the sensitive issues related to tribal people. The first three days of the trip were spent in Samata head office in Dabbanda village, Vizag. Mr. Ravi Rebbapragada and the admin team gave us crucial insights about the villages and the kind of work they have been doing. This made me better appreciate what it takes to build a strong NGO so deeply rooted in an area for three decades. Mr. Satis Kumar, the co-ordinator, helped me with providing documents and other reading materials relating to Katiki and Katiki Waterfalls. Upon reaching the village, these readings proved to be of great help as they gave me a better understanding about the situation in Katiki and I was able to  prepare myself better for the work. Post the session with Mr. Ravi Rebbapragada, I attended a meeting with the Sub-collector of Vizag to talk about pending title deeds for the tribes in Chintapalli village.his meeting was an evidence as to how a NGO goes about its day to day work by patiently lobbying with the state to ensure justice is served to the concerned stakeholders.

The next fifteen days of my experience in Katiki was an awakening of sorts for a policy student like me and would be worthy of lifetime experience to an individual. The villagers were so kind and generous while hosting me and treated me like family. The tribes have a deep sense of community unlike the new urban culture. While they work for self, they live for the community. It was an altogether different world in terms of culture and human relations.

I had three general meetings with the villagers during my stay. First meeting was a general introduction and an ice breaking session. Second meeting was regarding the village and its maintenance (cleanliness, plastic disposal, education for kids, overcoming dropouts, etc.). The third meeting was on the last night I stayed in the village when I spoke to them about my observations and immediately implementable suggestions. A training session for the members who work in KWDC (Katiki Waterfall Development Committee) was also conducted.

I visited around eight villages, Katiki Waterfall, and Borra Caves, along with 2 weekly markets (Santhe), a Ration Centre, Borra Panchayat, dilapidated buildings called as schools and Anganwadis. On 20th October 2017, I along with eight villagers met Mr. D Balaji, IAS, Sub-collector, Paderu, on grievance cell at Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), and submitted a written complaint about the plight of Katiki village and also made a request for initiating road construction as soon as possible. Sub-collector was quite responsive and gave assurance of giving personal attention to the issue.

In these fifteen days, I was introduced to tribal culture, food, dance (Dhimsa), and lifestyle, and I made friends and brother for life. After fifteen days of stay in Katiki, I came back to Samata head office. Here,  I sat with the team and discussed with them my findings and observations and took note of  their opinions. Additionally, we discussed the potential developmental activities that could be carried out in Katiki Waterfalls.

On completion of  twenty-one days of my trip, I came back to Bengaluru with a huge amount of learning- to organise my learnings and turn it into a presentable knowledge to motivate my fellow policy students to take up more of such trips.

Ignorant Constitutionalism?

“We are living in these mountains since ages. Yes, it is a tough life. But we were happy. But one day few foreign dressed people, who call themselves the government, came and told us that these land and we belong to the nation and asked us to ally with them to live better, and we did. Soon few others namely, Forest department, Revenue Department, Railway Department and now the Tourism Department came to us and said they all have share of these mountains. We understood all of them want to eat from our plate but for some strange reasons they don’t like us and are not allowing us to eat. What do we do!!??” said an old man in his eighties when I met him at his home. At first he was agitated on seeing me as he mistook me for a government official. Upon clarifying that I was an intern with Samata, he was happy, and spoke with enthusiasm.

Fifth Schedule of Constitution of India

The Fifth Schedule covers Tribal areas in nine states of India namely Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Rajasthan. Essentially the Fifth Schedule is a historic guarantee to the indigenous people on the right over the land they live in.

But over these seventy years, has the spirit of Indian Constitution been forgotten or ignored!? Who is responsible for the prevailing ignorant constitutionalism? These are the questions one would ask after experiencing the ground realities in Katiki and the surrounding villages. Despite all the Constitutional provisions, laws, policies and programs, these tribes are to this day, struggling for basic amenities.This takes one by surprise about the type of governance and implementation we have adopted in these areas.

(Bhaskar is a 2017-19 participant of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. He can be reached at bhaskarsimhaln@nls.ac.in)

Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan: Road to Reform

Sumit Jain was part of the University contingent that visited Bhim, Rajasthan in October 2017 to work with Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan as part of the field work component of the Master of Public Policy course. He reflects on the concerns with the social security mechanisms in the country.

Flaws in the PDS

Government of India operates Public Distribution System (PDS) in synchrony with state governments in order to provide food security to the people of India. Making Aadhaar mandatory or availing subsidized ration has augmented corruption even further. Point of Sale (POS) machines at fair price shops (FPS) have started failing terribly. Though the government claims the biometric machines will help in eliminating corruption, the exact opposite scenario has taken place on ground. While previously the dealer was apprehensive of getting caught in case an investigation took place, now he/she can conveniently deny ration to a family under the garb of the POS machine not recognizing his or her fingerprint (there exists a parallel mechanism where the dealer can still provide a family with ration, if his/her fingerprint failed to match). In a FPS in Sangarwas panchayat of Beawar, the Sarpanch was openly defending the dealer who had denied ration to a family for last five months. When we tried to contact the panchayat sahayak regarding the same, he was dismissive of villagers and blamed them for their condition. Sarpanch, babu, dealer and Aadhaar –these entities which were entrusted upon to make the system work – have become the very reason for its failing.

Loopholes in MNREGA

Source: Author, data from Wikipedia.

While the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) looks good on paper, situation on ground is appalling. Bureaucracy has found ways to block the implementation of this scheme at various junctures. For example, construction sites tend to deploy a large number of NREGA workers. Given the kind of work, labourers are expected to work in a group of five. The Government servants take advantage of this loophole by denying work to people who approach them in the individual capacity. If that was countered by any chance, the payment of the wage is done on the basis of task and not on the number of hours worked. This has again led to a peculiar condition where the officer present at the construction site would find some or the other fault in the work done and deduct the already meagre wage. This has led to massive frustration among the workers who are willing to work hard but even then not given their own share of the wage.

National Social Assistance Scheme and its impact

Pension amounts in various states are mentioned below –

Source: Author, data from Wikipedia.

For a lot of families who have no one to support them, this pension is the only source of income. However, all is not green in such schemes as well. Take the case of old age pension scheme, a person is entitled to increased pension of 750/- INR (previously 500/- INR) as he/she attains the age of 65. But due to lack of awareness, people involved in disbursing and delivering the pension try to pocket that extra 250/- INR. We found a lot of cases where people had attained the age of 74-75 and were still receiving 500/- INR as pension.

Talk with Aruna Roy

The NLS group of interns also got an opportunity to interact with MKSS pioneer Ms. Aruna Roy. Through her conversation she shed light on her experience in civil services and the rampant corruption in the bureaucracy. Service rules are framed in such a manner that only conformists can survive. Any attempt to reform the system is not taken well by the political establishment and every attempt is made to nullify that step.

She also discussed various aspects of public policy, her stint as a ‘professor of practice’ at McGill University, Canada and how the domain is evolving in various parts of the world. She paid focus on how the civil society plays an important role in the Indian context keeping the democratic values alive and acts as a pressure group on the government. She also laid emphasis on the importance of protests and described taking part in them as imperative for policy students.

NLS interns with Aruna Roy

As mentioned at various places in the report, it is the information gap and lack of awareness which is the root of all problems. While the government legislation has empowered the people with legal rights, the ones who are empowered are unaware of it. It also seems that government has intentionally left this information gap so that they can alter the public opinion as and when required. It is this information gap which the civil society needs to fill. One way to go through this is by organizing meetings and taking the public in confidence. MKSS is doing a great job in this manner and more such groups should come up. Another possible way to curb this problem is by providing consultancy to the government in such a manner that they see their benefit in informing people about their rights. How that would be done in a convincing manner is something all of us have to find out.

(Sumit Jain is a participant of the 2017-19 batch of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. He can be reached sumitjain@nls.ac.in)

Marianad: A Tryst with History

Noel Benno Joseph, Linitha Mathew, and Srilakshmi Nambiar visited Marianad, a fishing village in Kerala in October 2017 as part of the fieldwork component of the Master of Public Policy course. They chart out the history of the village and how it took its modern shape.

A still from the Marianad beach.

‘Everytime we come back from the sea, we bring back not just fish but our lives too’ says Anish, a 37 year old fisherman. Our 21 day fieldwork at Marianad showed us that the lives of the people in this quaint village in Thiruvananthapuram revolved around fishing. The fisherfolk fondly refer to the sea as ‘Kadalamma’ which when translated in English means ‘Sea Mother’. Most of the households in Marianad wake up at 3 am. The womenfolk pack rice porridge and if available, some slices of dry fish for their men. Men sip a cup of black coffee to shake off the looming cold weather and head out to sea. They return with the catch in the afternoon.

Fishermen believe that the place is blessed with good fortune and wealth, with varieties of squid, crab, and fish being shipped to different parts of the state. However, the days of glory did not come without a struggle. Known earlier as ‘Alilathura’, meaning an uninhabited place, the village’s history is enmeshed with religious conflicts and social transition. With a vision for transforming this barren land into a habitable space, a Catholic Bishop named Bernard Perera made concerted efforts to resettle the fisherfolk in this village. Since they were primarily Latin Catholics and religious faith was an intrinsic part of their existence, fishermen found their spiritual abode in a church in a nearby village called ‘Puthukurichy’. The villagers here did not take kindly to the new neighbours, more so because of the advanced fishing techniques they employed. It was widely believed that hook and line fishing technique which was advanced would result in smaller catch for these traditional fishermen who used the shoreseine technique. The political economy of resource ownership resulted in the burning of nets and boats and there existed a fear among the migrant fishermen.

In 1961, with the establishment of the Thiruvananthapuram Social Service Society (TSSS),  Marianad Community Development Project was introduced in the village. The Program for Community Organisation (PCO) played a key role in building the village and the fishermen cooperatives. The cooperatives incentivised the fishermen by providing them with credit and protection from exploitation by big merchants. The setting up of M.U.C.S, the first cooperative in the village was a revolutionary step in terms of the upliftment it brought to the marginal fishermen. Today, Mariyanad hosts four fishermen collectives, two of which are registered as cooperatives and the other two as charitable societies. The co-operatives are enrolled under Matsyafed, which is the fishing cooperative established by the Government of Kerala. This makes them eligible for subsidies and loans from government agencies. The cooperatives which are not enrolled under Matsyafed, organise themselves under the umbrella of SIFFS (South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies).

The history and social movements of the village is closely tied with the empowerment of its womenfolk as well, who found strength in these movements to form a collective by the name ‘Mahilasamajam’. This forum opened up employment opportunities for women, while also providing them with a platform to raise and discuss their issues. Nursery, sewing classes, net-knitting, and other vocational activities became a hobby and a leisure activity for the women while the husbands were away at sea. Today, fisherwomen make small purchases to sell fish  in the city, they bargain effectively, and are an epitome of strength in the male dominated markets. However, subtle signs of patriarchy crop up when it comes to matters of womenfolk going into the sea for fishing. They are strictly prohibited from getting on boats and going out into the sea at all times. But Christmas and New Year are occasions on which women and children are also taken for a ride into the sea in a festive mood.

Following is a video montage of memories from Marianad shot and edited by Noel.

(Noel, Linitha, and Srilakshmi are participants of the 2017-19 batch of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. They can be reached at noelbennojoseph@nls.ac.in, linithamathew@nls.ac.in, and srilakshminambiar@nls.ac.in respectively.)

Melghat: From Crisis to Cure

Nissy Solomon was a part of the group that visited Melghat, Maharashtra in the month of October, 2017 to work with KHOJ in pursuance of the field work component of the Master of Public Policy programme. She highlights the issue of malnutrition and its impact in the region based on her interactions with the local community and other stakeholders.

Students meeting community leaders at Payvihir village, Melghat, Maharashtra.

In the southern offshoot of Satpura hills, nestled amidst forested mountains is situated the region of Melghat. While it is known for its pristine mountains, it has also been infamous for a high number of deaths due to malnutrition. The severity of it has been under the scanner since 1993, following a Public Interest Litigation filed by activist Sheela Barse in the Bombay High Court. Despite steps undertaken by the government and initiatives by voluntary organisations, the problem of malnutrition continues to persist.

The sustainable development goals that aim to end poverty by 2030 highlight the element of nutrition being central to holistic development. Concerns of nutrition arise not just from sufficient dietary intake but from a host of interconnected processes like education, health care, employment, sanitation, connectivity, and more. In other words, there exists a complex interplay of factors which is poorly understood. In the context of Melghat, a detailed study exhibits that malnutrition is multifaceted and it is both a cause and an outcome of other problems plaguing the region.

According to official government figures, child mortality in two blocks of Melghat – Chikhaldara and Dharni – was 206 in 2016 and maternal mortality was 7 in the year 2016 which shot up to 15 in 2017. On an average, every year 400-500 children between age 0-6 die in this region. The reasons are multi-causal and intricately connected. Eighty-four per cent of women in this region suffer from anaemia, the cause of which is nutritional deficiency. Lower haemoglobin weakens women’s ability to survive child birth.  Surviving a high risk pregnancy causes greater risk to child’s health.

Maternal mortality and child deaths due to malnutrition are a result of systemic failures. Factors like limited Public Health Centres (PHCs), dearth of paediatricians and gynaecologists, high unemployment, poor infrastructure and connectivity, reliance on traditional medicines, and lack of awareness among the tribal population contribute to this failure.  For instance, at Chunkadi village, a remote village in Chikhaldara, there was no PHC functioning. Absenteeism of medical practitioners is common to most villages in Melghat. Complicated cases do not get due attention as a result of which maternal and child health deteriorates. This appalling situation is representative of what confronts the region.

In response to the humanitarian crisis in Melghat, many civil society organisations emerged to maintain and build strong capacities aimed at assuaging the plight of the people. Advocate Bandu Sane, director of one such organisation KHOJ, asserts that there has been a long term presence of government and civil society organisations, each working in their own capacity to improve and mobilise resources for action. However, lack of coordination among the institutional actors has been impeding the desired progress in the region.

When considerable attention was drawn to this region, the state government appointed committees and initiated schemes to fight the issue of malnutrition. Several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were set up, each with their strategies for the region’s development. Currently, there are over 300 registered NGOs operational in 320 villages. Despite their presence, the problem of malnutrition continues to grip Melghat. This is reflective of a lack of synthesis among the institutional actors.

Understanding the importance of collaborative efforts, KHOJ organised a convergence workshop on October 28, 2017 where prominent stakeholders took part to collectively envision a better future for the tribal population in Melghat.

Convergence Meeting held on October 28th, 2017 in Amravati, Maharashtra.

Given the interrelationships among the range of causal factors underlying malnutrition, efforts to address these problems from individual capacities have resulted in limited success. In order to achieve these strategies of development, a coordinated action that encourages dialogue among institutional actors is imperative to avoid policy discrepancies. Part of the solution in managing complex problems includes successfully partnering across permeable boundaries and engaging citizens and stakeholders in policy making.

At a point when considerable effort has been invested in this area, the time has come to examine whether convergence could be an effective means of governance, since the future demands a collective rethinking of common issues.

(Nissy Solomon is a 2017-19 participant of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at nissysolomon@nls.ac.in)

Village, Politics and Reminiscence

PRAMIT PRITAM JENA

Pramit Pritam Jena, worked in the tribal village of Purulia, West Bengal with PRADAN as a part of field work for Public Policy students at National Law School. From the experience during his fieldwork, he brings to the light the daily life of people, empowerment of women collectives, sustainability of Self Help Groups and their way forward.

pano_20161023_120549Life in the tribal villages of Purulia (a district of West Bengal) is rustic and peaceful. At around 4:30 – 5 am, adults and children rise from slumber and set about their daily routine. The break of dawn sets into motion the typical village cacophony – cows mooing, hens cackling, and vessels clanging. The men depart for the farms, while the women form serpentine queues near the tubewell with pots and pitchers. This routine is consistently followed, which perhaps, creates a cultural divide from the urban areas.

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Water shortage is palpable, as is reinforced by the fact that Purulia is a notified drought-prone area. As agriculture is the chief source of subsistence, delayed monsoons set life in disarray. A deferred sowing of paddy leads to a late and poor harvest. Water harvesting structures have made life easier after the monsoons end, but the consolation only lasts till the smaller to medium sized ponds dry up in March/April. However, the villagers relate stories of the 1970s, when, in contrast, most villages had no source of drinking water. There is a visible change in villages where PRADAN has been working, according to the testimony of the rural folk. Government line departments are apparently not very effective as Project Implementing Agency. This could be attributed to the shortage of technical staff and bureaucratic lethargy. It is evident that PRADAN as an NGO is capable of fulfilling financial and physical targets, as well as establishing an emotional connect with the community.

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It is without a doubt that there is a contention between the local politicians and our host organisation. One of the members of an SHG, in the local MLA’s native village, recounted one incident when a PRADAN professional was apprehended by local leaders. Hundreds of women in the SHG federation rushed to the spot in support of the former. The matter was resolved once the MLA of the constituency intervened and took the perpetrators to task. Corruption is deep rooted, beginning from the highest levels of government, and percolating down to the panchayat. Funds for development work are sheared off in piecemeals as they are handed down the hierarchy, and a reduced amount reaches the works phase. Moreover, the beneficiaries are selected in a biased manner. The favourites of politicians and office holders remain at the receiving end, while the deserving look on.

However, project implementation through SHGs has brought about a paradigmatic shift in the story of local self-governance. Members assert that every penny is accounted for since the transactions are carried out through transparent SHG, Gram Sabha and Aam Sabha meetings. The quality and time periods of project completion have also improved. One begins to wonder whether the key to development lies not only in the Government policy making, but in the extent to which we have been successful in tapping the potential of an organised, mobilised and empowered rural community, especially women collectives.img_20161026_120153

The sustainability of SHGs to effect change is directly linked to their financial sustainability and rate of growth and maturation. Any external policy intervention to SHGs should bear this issue in mind. It is vitally important that both government and NGOs work to bear all the costs in mind of interventions to make them sustainable otherwise the SHGs will be overburdened and destined to fail. Government regulations could help manage this risk and increase the emphasis on sustainability of SHGs. There are key areas of SHG financial management that need to be improved such as internal controls, accounting, management stewardship, organisational efficiency and others. If the government were to enact policy that would regulate the quality of SHGs and tied this to their eligibility for SHG-Bank Linkage, then this would help bring about a more measured and responsible growth to the movement. Both for SHGs and SHG federations, there is a need to aspire to attain standards following the best practices. As the SHG federations are emerging as community owned microfinance institutions, there is a need for significant investment in providing institution building support. These SHG federations being bodies like corporations which are registered under an appropriate legal form must comply with the prudential and legal norms. There is a need for a well-developed third-party rating system for SHG federations before they are linked with financial institutions to act as an intermediary as they handle a large volume of funds from the bank linkage and also undertake savings from their members.

img_20161021_165450There is a need for establishing a computerised Management Information System (MIS) for SHGs and SHG federations to monitor their performance on a regular basis. SHG federations must be able to publish their annual reports and share those with all their members. A suitable marketing channel has to be developed at panchayat level by state agencies. Formation of such agencies can be inculcated into programme guidelines. The cost shall be borne by the State Government. SHGs need to be encouraged to upgrade into cooperatives. In advanced stages, these groups are capable of inducing change to domestic problems due to the presence of a corpus fund, skilled manpower and experience. Finally, the role of NGOs has been critical in achieving the vision of SHG led development. Using them as facilitators in SHG formation and guidance has to be made compulsory in programme guidelines as government line departments are unable to realise quantitative and qualitative targets due to multiple responsibilities in respective portfolios. The SHG model has to be supported through fortifying support of Government policy and guidelines in order to reach fruition.

(Pramit Pritam Jena can be reached at pramitpj@nls.ac.in)