MGNREGA status report | In the shadow of Maoism

MGNREGA status report | In the shadow of Maoism

Dantewada, Chhattisgarh: Madvi Madka owns 4ha of land in Chingavaram in the Sukum block in central India. The district in which the block is located has become infamous after 6 April, killing of 76 policemen by the Maoists. This is the ground zero of the war between the Indian state and the Maoists, and Madka, who owns 4ha of land—often left fallow because there wasn’t enough water for irrigation—here used to make ends meet by travelling to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and picking chillies during the harvest season.

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That changed with the introduction of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). Field workers in charge of implementing the job guarantee programme in the Naxal-infested region expanded the scope of projects that fell under the scheme to ponds on private lands—a move targeted at generating goodwill. Madka was one of the beneficiaries and a small pond was constructed on his land.

Read a blog post about how a love for the local Mahua liquor is impeding MGNREGS work in Dantewada

Read why Mint decided to run a series on MGNREGS

The pond and a little more help from field workers have changed Madka’s life. He now has a vegetable garden, a fish pond, and owns some goats and chicken. Madka has become a role model for other tribals; “many people in the area have approached us for ponds", says Dinesh Chandel, assistant project officer of MGNREGS in Dantewada district.

A ray of hope

MGNREGS plays a very basic role in Dantewada, says Prasanna R., district collector, Bijapur. “It has helped the locals to develop confidence in the administration. It is easy us for to take other schemes to them," he adds. Bijapur is one of the districts worst affected by Maoist insurgency.

Also Read Political will, NGOs hold key to success (Part 1 of the series)

Recognizing the benefits of the scheme, the state is working towards creating infrastructure that can help MGNREGS projects get off the ground.

Some tribals view the official measures favourably. Chetra Atami, a tribal in Kasoli, says: “We need more bridges and check dams so that we can do more farming in the land. We are happy that we get work when we want. The administration does not deny us funds at all."

Empowering locals: (From top) Villagers of Kasoli working on a project under the rural employment guarantee programme; a recently constructed check dam in Badepaneda village in Geedam block; a boy in Dantewada district collecting mahua flowers which are used to produce an alcoholic drink. Pradeep Gaur / Mint

Yet, operating in a region where the Maoists call the shots in most areas comes with its own set of problems.

It is routine for government officials to be kidnapped and held hostage. Many districts do not have enough banks and post offices. For example, Dantewada (17,634 sq. km area and around 770,000 population) has 45 banks and 130 post offices in its 403 villages, out of which almost 50% are not functional.

“We do have problems in meeting the target, especially in the interiors. Payment is another area of trouble, with not many post offices or banks to transfer the money. We also face a human resource crunch," says Alex Menon, chief executive officer, zilla panchayat (district council), Bijapur.

“With one village getting at least (a) Rs10 lakh project, many post offices do not have the staff to handle it nor are they comfortable in handling the money," adds Chandel.

So far the district administration has opened 37,280 bank accounts and 84,052 post office accounts for the villagers, while 13,433 families have been distributed job cards. At least 2,248 projects have already been cleared; and of the Rs61.78 crore approved, Rs26.55 crore has been spent.

It isn’t always easy to interest tribals in the projects, says Chandel. Some of them prefer to harvest mahua flowers (which is distilled to make a liquor called Mahua) and tendu leaves (a major non-timber forest produce used for rolling beedis), instead. However, with the benefits of some MGNREGS projects becoming evident, the administration hopes there will be more interest.

Benefits for all

One such project is the check dam in Badepaneda village in Geedam block. Built at a cost of Rs47 lakh (it took three years and 5,350 man hours), this can store water for at least eight villages. “Earlier, we used to face water shortage in summer, right from the month of February. With this check dam, we will not have any water problem throughout the year. Our wells (in the nearby areas) are not dry; we can bathe lavishly and irrigate our farms too," says Devashish, a villager.

The job guarantee scheme has also helped local officials reach out to areas where they did not have a presence. Like Bijapur zilla panchayat, where most of the 36 villages were inaccessible till recently.

An important benefit, according to Menon and Prasanna, is that through MGNREGS the administration could regain at least 10% of the land from the Naxals in a year. “Reddy village (20km from the district headquarters) is the perfect example for rehabilitation. It was unreachable, schools and health centres had been blasted by the Naxals. Now the villagers have gone back from the camps. They have two schools and health centres there," Menon said.

Still, in this part of the country, MGNREGS is far from an unqualified success. In Matwara village, 357 job cards were distributed, but only 150 people have worked and earned wages. As a result, the ambit of the scheme has not yet expanded from creating small ponds and approach roads.

While it is in the interests of the local administration to implement the job guarantee scheme, the Maoists, villagers claim, themselves do not seem opposed to it—as long as a project doesn’t pose a threat to them.

“In some places, they ensure that the villagers get the ensured wage and in some other places, they themselves supervise the construction of roads. But they do oppose it when we try to construct roads to get access to their heartlands," says an MGNREGS field worker in Bijapur district.

This is the second of a five-part MGNREGA status report.

Next: How the scheme is resulting in the enlisting of women in the workforce in Rajasthan and catalysing social change.