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Self-help groups: reports, achievements, view points




by Suverchala Kashyap

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Saving themselves
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Banking on themselves

Building blocks for success

But on the other hand
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Women's special
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A page from the publishing world
Sreejith Kumar K S and Sabloo Thomas

Lessons from MYRADA


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As help from the State remains as scarce as the water there, Vadodara-based Bhasha works overtime to create water banks and finding solutions from indigenous sources

There are solutions to problems, which are so often within the reach of everybody, without depending on the government and yet changing ground realities. This is the feeling echoed by the collective of the members of Maali, a group of people who have come together in Tejgadh area of Chhotaudepur, Gujarat, to harness the elusive commodity called water.

"In a country where the government has not taken much initiative on the developmental side after more than half a century of freedom, there is no other option but to resort to self-help strategies," says Dr Ganesh Devy, currently involved in setting up water banks in this area.

Though Gujarat is internationally known as a leading industrial state, large pockets of it seem to have been bypassed by development: particularly the eastern parts inhabited primarily by tribal. Bhasha, a Vadodara-based NGO, working with the tribals of Chhotaudepur for the past nearly three years, especially in the field of language, arts and culture preservation, soon realised that there was no need to look to the outside for answers of any kind. The tribal themselves were a storehouse of information and knowledge that had been passed down for generations - all it needed was a little support.

The brain behind this set-up, Dr Ganesh Devy, through his constant interaction with the tribals realised that if there was any fixed answer to their specific problems it lay right with them. Says he, "Lop-sided government policies have led to these areas being economically and educationally the most underdeveloped parts of the state."

The people here have finally realised that in order to rectify their condition the change has to come from within. "We were just the catalyst in sparking off something that has been dormant for a long time," adds Nima who is closely involved in the water bank programme called maali.

In the local language the term maali means, `the sacred space for storing water'. In this area, it is synonymous with the people's participatory project for water harvesting, optimum utilisation of water resources and irrigation. The maali project covers nearly 24 villages, with a total population of approximately 45,000 people. The total land under cultivation in these areas per village is about 250-300 hectares, the total of which is 7,000 hectares.

The average land holding of a tribal adult (for Chhotaudepur region) is 1.5 acres. About 70 per cent tribal farmers hold no larger a piece of land than two acres and about 10 per cent hold land between five and eight acres. The average rainfall per year here ranges between 25-30 inches. The tendency of 70 per cent of the population is to grow only one crop during the monsoons. During the winter months, people migrate to towns as far as 300 km away and end up as construction workers. "In the current year," says Nima, "there has been an influx of workers in Vadodara due to the unusual drought situation, and the Bhasha survey has noticed that getting employment for even three days a week is a problem."

Says Dr Devy, "The single most important factor that will empower the tribal to rectify this sad scenario is to have enough water for irrigation, which would in turn enable them to have two to three crops a year. If they have adequate water they will not need to migrate in search of jobs and food." He strongly feels that enough water along with the micro-credit societies will free them forever from the hold of the moneylenders.

The eastern border of Chhotaudepur is about 25 km from the river Narmada. The Orsang, which is a dry river and an important tributary of Narmada, carries water only in the monsoon.

The project is based on the concept of voluntary participation in the management of natural resources. In each village, tribal farmers have come together for forming cooperative water banks. Adds Nima, "We hold monthly meetings where we decide upon the number of subscribers for each water bank, which usually ranges from 30 to 50. In addition, each maali is an autonomous and democratic body, and for its administrative convenience has to elect a pramukh and a mantri. The subscribers of the bank have the right to take part in all decision-making processes."

Informs Dr Devy, "Certain ground rules have been laid down by the tribals themselves after a lot of discussion which are making this project a successful one."

After the group has decided collectively to undertake reconstruction of an existing water-work, creation of a new one or utilisation of a natural or manmade one, the cost is determined, in consultation with the field supervisor designated by the Bhasha centre. Nearly 25 per cent of the total cost of construction, creation and maintenance is to be collected by the group on a pro-rata basis. The collected amount is deposited in the group's bank account after informing the supervisor. The Bhasha centre facilitates obtaining of appropriate grants available in various governmental schemes for this purpose. It also makes available about 25 per cent of the costs as a loan amount, preferably as a non-refundable loan.

The centre also tries to obtain the remaining part of the funds required for the project from national or international funding bodies. "If that cannot be done" says Dr Devy, "we liason with a nationalised bank and secure a short-term loan to meet the requirement." He adds that field supervisors are provided to monitor the working of the maali groups. In order to ensure fool-proof monitoring we choose volunteers from the tribals themselves because they are well acquainted with the topography and language, and are sufficiently educated to liase with government officials and external funding agencies. The Bhasha centre also undertakes short-term training courses for orienting the pramukhs and mantris of the self-help groups formed for this water project.

Summarises Nima, "Even though this SHG is only about six months old the tribals have realised that fighting a problem singly does not have enough impact, but results are clear to see when people work collectively." Though this is a positive impact it also has a flip side, she adds -- somewhere down the line it is giving rise to a new social leadership and it is a very potent weapon, breaking up, in a way, the stranglehold of the panchayat."

In effect, the maali project visualises that over a period of seven to 10 years the average annual income (currently it is Rs 12,000 per year per family) of at least 70 per cent of the population of the 24 villages will increase in real terms by 150 per cent. The level of indebtedness will come down between zero and five per cent.

More important than anything else, as Dr Devy states, "In the cyclic droughts faced perpetually by Gujarat the villagers will have enough surplus food-grain and fodder to fall back on. This would also lead to competitive agriculture, not in terms of becoming another industry, but to protect their rights and privileges and determine the crop cycle by producing enough to survive and last in the rural market. "

Suverchala Kashyap is a Baroda-based freelance journalist and can be contacted at

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Water wars: Dr Devy speaking with a tribal group on how to handle the water problem

Common issue: Villagers at a maali meeting

Making of the maali

The maali operates on the principle that agricultural development of a village is possible only through collective participation of the farmers. Self-reliance is thus the main element in the success of such a scheme. Any villager holding ownership rights and the land title of any agricultural land can become a member of the group. Every member will surrender all rights on any water source that is in his/her individual possession of the group. The member will have equal rights on all water sources managed by the group. While undertaking the work of digging a new well or reconstructing an already existing well or building a check dam or employing method of water harvesting, every member will have the option to subscribe or not to subscribe to that particular water work.

The subscription to any new water work undertaken by the group can be made in the form of money or adequate quantity of water. For example, explains Nima, "In case seven villages decide to dig a common well then four out of the seven can contribute in cash and the others can contribute a comparable quantity of water to the group for use by other members of the group."

The member on whose farm a new water work is being undertaken will surrender the ownership of that area of land that is being used for that specific work through a contract on a stamp paper.