Tribals in Madhya Pradesh empowered yet unaware

  • Padma Shastri, Hindustan Times, Jhabua/Alirajpur
  • Updated: Apr 07, 2015 18:02 IST

A year back, a tractor trolley loaded with irrigation pumps of 5HP rolled into Sondhwa.

The driver read the names of farmers from a list, distributed the pumps and departed. Even today, the farmers have little idea where the pumps came from.

"They must have been sent to beneficiaries under some government scheme. (The) beneficiaries didn’t inquire," says Sondhwa farmer and Congress party leader Shamsher Singh Patel.

Living 100 kilometres away from Sondhwa, illiterate Bhil farmer Jama Wakhla doesn’t know who sent him a motor pump worth Rs 20,000 to irrigate his six bigha farm situated in Jhabua district's Dharampuri village.

The farmer has been using the pump and says he will borrow from moneylenders if the government ever asks him to pay up for the equipment.

If the likes of Patel and Wakhla have faceless benefactors then 22-year-old Shankar Jamara of Silikhodri village in Jhabua knows well the dangers of availing state-run welfare programmes without complete knowledge of the schemes.

Seven years back, his relatives residing in Silikhodri village in Jhabua district mortgaged their farms with a moneylender to take a loan of `35,000.

"The loan taken from (the) moneylender was used to repay the bank loan my relatives had taken to purchase a bullock cart and pair of bullocks under a government scheme," says Jamara who works with an NGO.

The bank recovery officials, according to Jamara, landed in village a year after giving the loans and warned farmers of stringent action if they failed to repay. His relatives, who say they had no idea that they had to return the money, will take another two years to square off the moneylender's loan.

In a tribal-dominated region rife with poverty and illiteracy, ignorance about government welfare schemes — be it financial assistance or vocational training — has meant different things to different people, sometimes with devastating consequences.

But government officials refute charges that they haven't done enough to spread awareness among illiterate farmers about state-run welfare schemes.

"Loans are sanctioned in camps. Corruption has reduced," says Amar Singh More, the general manager of Jhabua district industries centre.

But probably not all defaults are unintentional. For instance, almost half of the loan accounts in the region’s leading bank, Bank of Baroda’s, Jhabua Chowk have become noneperforming assets in the last financial year.

"Most of them were small loans," bank’s lead district manager Pritesh Pande says, adding that many loanees become untraceable after paying two to three instalments.

Many fail to start their business after receiving free vocational training at government centres. MK Baitalloo, the bank’s rural self-employment training institute director, tells HT, "Many are not regular at training sessions".

An MP Tribal Finance and Development Corporation official remarked, "Don’t blame us. How do you expect to develop entrepreneurship in a village which becomes half empty when villagers migrate to neighbouring Gujarat as daily wagers?"

Though seasonal migration has reduced from 4.5 lakh tribals seven years back to 1.5 lakh now, government officials say migration affects local business as there are not many left in villages to buy goods.

Tribal economy model

A six-meter diameter bamboo dome, which can be used as anganwadi building, farmers' chaupal at grain mandis or house of BLP tribals, costs from Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000. This is against Rs 1 lakh to Rs 3 lakh which government spends to construct similar buildings. Bamboo domes allow enough air, natural light for people to read and write.

NGO Shivganga Gurukul which promotes entrepreneurship among tribals has projected it as cost-effective model of tribal economy as bamboo grows in abundance in Jhabua and Alirajpur district.

Dome base consists of three to five-inch high cemented circular platform built with bricks. On this stands bamboo framework which forms walls and roof.

The roof is covered with dry grass, cement plaster etc.

Built on geometrical calculations, bamboos varying from 1.25-cm to one-meter in length are fastened together in triangular shapes and screwed on round iron plates with nuts and bolts.

The bamboos can be treated with herbal and chemical solution to prevent decay.

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