Tag Archives: fieldwork

Stuck Between a Rock & a Hard Place – Life of farmers in Amreli, Gujarat

Antara Vats, Arjun Anand, Lakshay Narang and Raj Shekhar visited Shiksha Ane Samaj Kalyan Kendra in Amreli district of Gujarat for fieldwork as part of the curriculum of Masters Programme in Public Policy.

“Everyone believes that the ‘Gujarat Model’ is successful; it is anything but that” exclaimed Magan Bhai, as he shuffled through his newspaper. It was late in the afternoon and we were hosted by Magan Bhai and his wife at their nine-hectare farm. The farm and the village – Govindpur – were on the outskirts of Gir National Park due to which a welcome cold breeze swept across the farm every now and then. We tried not to be out in the open during afternoon, as the temperature in Amreli district – our home for three weeks – used to hover around 40 degrees Celsius. But here we were sitting under a tree, sipping hot tea and having wild kakdi. “It rained for twenty days in July and it hasn’t rained since” sighed Magan Bhai’s wife. Both of them were in their late sixties and surprisingly the only ones working on the farm. Deficient and inadequately spread rainfall during the monsoon combined with emigration of landless labourers to cities had severely affected farmers. The unviability of agriculture due to the uncertainty of monsoon, that multiple government irrigation plans aim to correct, had forced farmers and labourers to find other forms of livelihood. In villages we visited, young boys and girls were sent to cities to learn new employable skills but the older generation stayed back because their “life was their land and they didn’t know any other way of life.” These farmers were trapped; on the one hand they had modern irrigation equipment, institutional support and bigger farms than the national average; and on the other they were still dependent on rainfall.

Over our three weeks in Amreli we came across a situation that is not highlighted much in the mainstream discourse around Indian agriculture. Farmers in the three blocks (Khambha, Una and Jafarbad) were, according to me, in a phase of transition. Their agricultural practices and objectives had moved on from mere sustenance but had not achieved complete commercialisation. Farmers used modern equipment and employed best practices like using Bt cotton seeds, drip and sprinkler irrigation, leveraging government schemes like Soil Health Cards and many others. They grew cotton, groundnut, onion, tomato and peanuts, all with huge potential in the food processing sector. Yet, modernisation seemed unable to remove the severe consequences of deficient rainfall. Irrigation facilities should enable such farmers to break away from the uncertainty but falling levels of groundwater, increasing salinity in groundwater and inadequate water harvesting initiatives posed modern challenges. Similarly, they had access to pesticides but changing preferences and increased awareness of the harmful effects of pesticides forced farmers to limit the use of pesticides or move towards organic farming. Organic farming fetches higher prices but the overall production falls and the domestic demand for organic agro-products is still in its nascent stage. The farmers lack the capacity to tackle these new challenges because successive governments focused on providing subsidies instead investing in agriculture (Kapila, 2016).

In response to these modern problems farmers mobilised to form farmer producer companies (FPC). Its objective was to increase their bargaining power, swell their profits, adapt sustainable agricultural practices, and fully develop the supply chain. The organisation we worked with – Shiksha Ane Samaj Kalyan Kendra –has been actively involved in mobilising farmers, creating capacity and raising awareness among farmers to form FPCs. Gujarat has one of the most thriving producer-company ecosystems in the country with many private players participating and supporting these initiatives. A federation of all FPCs of Gujarat – GujPro – is one the most successful federations in the country. Through FPCs, farmers are being encouraged to move towards food processing. However, some structural issues plague FPCs as well. Major investment is required in storage and transportation facilities to fully leverage the benefits from food processing. The government has dragged its feet over the same for years now. Similarly, food processing requires investment in processing units; credit availability to such FPCs is not easy to come by as banks remain reluctant to lend. Thus, the burden again falls on the government.

We saw that farmers are willing to come up with new forms of organisations to get around the structural problems in agriculture. The most pertinent structural problem is with respect to agricultural GDP, which is affected majorly by three factors: public and private investment over the years; relative price incentives for agriculture; and rainfall. Public investment in agriculture declined after 1991 but then picked up again from 2002 to 2012. There are scores of studies that have shown the positive correlation between agricultural growth and public investment. However, nearly 85 per cent of the investment in agriculture is by private sector mostly in “labour saving machines and water-saving equipment” (Kapila, 2016). There needs to be a long-term policy for the agricultural sector, as short-term benefits like subsidies have left farmers completely dependent on the government. For the realisation of increasing farmers’ income, standard of living and decreasing their dependence on government (read Gujarat Model) political and other vested interests have to be curbed. Until then, farmers of the country would find themselves in a similar limbo like the farmers of Gujarat.

(Lakshay Narang is a student of the 2018-20 batch of Masters Programme in Public Policy at National Law School of India University, Bangalore. He can be reached at lakshaynarang@nls.ac.in)


Kapila, U. (2016). Indian Economy Performance and Policies . New Delhi: Academic Foundation.

Gujarat, G. (2009). Statistics. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from https://dag.gujarat.gov.in/Statistics.htm

Srinivas, N. N., & Mehta, P. (2018, July 13). Agriculture investment: Time to cultivate a visible hand. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/et-commentary/agriculture-investment-time-to-cultivate-a-visible-hand/







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)

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)