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Uttaran :

A sincere approach to generate livelihood of Birbandh, Kharujhor, Kawatanga villages of Ranibandh Block , Bankura through Usharmukti.

Introduction to work: The remotest villages of Bankura District is changing – Birbandh, Kharujhor, Kawatanga of Ranibandh block have done intensive water conservation work using MGNREGS through USHARMUKTI initiative. Few years back this area used to remain in newspaper headlines frequently. The bullet marks on the doors, windows & walls of Bagdubi Primary school still carries the terrible frightening memories of the confrontation between the Police & the Maoists. During that period – the development processes have stopped in this region, many youths left their village, many lives have ended prematurely. But now those villages are coming out of their dark zone and trying hard to transform the villages through water conservation work.

The western part of West Bengal state majorly comes under agro-climatic zone-VII characterised by undulating terrain with hilly outcrops, uneven distribution of rainfall and high run off, low soil depth and low moisture retention capacity in soil. In this region, one of the poorest block is Ranibandh Development Block of Bankura District has innovatively engaged in water conservation work using MGNREGS. The total area of the block has been divided into several Micro-watersheds and each watershed have a detailed project report comprises of a watershed treatment plan following the principles of Integrated Natural Resource Management. In Ranibandh Block (especially the extreme southern part is the poorest pocket of the Block), during 2018-19 outstanding work has been done on water conservation in the extreme southern part of the block in the villages like Birbandh, Kharujhor, Kawatanga and those works can be a response to combat widespread poverty in the Jangalmahal region.

Need for work: In this region rain-water being the only source of irrigation, most of the cultivable lands only can grow single crop & many of the lands remain fallow round the year. The above prevailing conditions has promoted mono-cropping pattern since long back, which is again primarily rain-fed, making agriculture a very risky proposition for most of the farmers thus the vulnerability too. As the soil has low moisture retention capacity (especially in medium uplands), most of the year there is a shortage of water in paddy cultivation (especially during the flowering stage at the end of October) for most of the medium uplands which causes low production of it.

In villages like Kawatanga of Rautora GP, People having lack of job opportunities and livelihood options. It’s a struggle for the people (a poorest pocket of India and an isolated village under dense forest of Rautora GP, Ranibandh Block in which 63.01% of the total area is covered by the forest) to ensure daily meal i.e. rice for year the round as they have very less cultivable land which is only 12.74% of the total village area. Out of that small agriculture lands, 49.06% of the total cultivable land is affected by the deposition of eroded soil comes from upper layer of hillocks through gullies formed by heavy surface run-off during the monsoon season in every year. The above problem creates a barrier for the people to fully utilise the cultivable land that is already very less. As a result, the community depend upon the forests for their livelihoods by selling fuel woods, non-timber forest produces, livestock rearing etc. which gives a very low return vis-à-vis their hard work. The scenario has aggravated over the last few decades. Earlier, the hillocks were totally covered by the trees and due to that during the heavy rainfall also, the roots of the trees were effective to hold the top soil. The gradual flow of rain water in between the dense forests was instrumental to increase the scope of infiltration in the sub-surface layer which subsequently used to produce seepage water in the agriculture lands. This was very much crucial for the moisture retention in the agriculture lands, thus results good paddy production. But rapid deforestation in the last few decades resulted barren lands on the hillocks. As a consequence, during the heavy rainfall, there is high surface run-off causes soil erosion gradually forms gullies and resulted deposition of stones, pebbles and sand into the agriculture lands.

Though annual rainfall is 1200-1300 mm, it mostly drains out towards the eastern part due to undulation and following the water flow, villages have a trend to migrate to the same eastern region to earn livelihoods. Like, in Birbandh village of Barikul Gram Panchayat 29 out of 54 households have a trend of going for seasonal migration. Though many developmental interventions have been taken in last few decades but it was not promising for people to earn adequate livelihoods by staying in the villages. Earlier interventions, it has neither able to create ample scope of employment nor have a focus to create Integrated Natural Resource Management based asset to support the agriculture-based activities. In this context, the current interventions on water conservation have been taken to fulfil both the purposes of rejuvenating nature as well as creating opportunities for the rural HHs to earn livelihoods.

Challenges: The water conservation work need to be concentrated in a chunk of land considering that as a unit for treatment. In one hand, it was challenging to convince the communities to agree for this kind of work. A strong resistance from the community has been observed around small water bodies creation – earlier the communities have a very bad experience of numbers of incomplete & ineffective structures having no benefits. It was also challenging to facilitate the community to come out from their traditional thoughts of creating large ponds is the only solution to the land & water-based issues. On the other hand, it was challenging to bring in consensus of the several stakeholders – especially the community, PRI representatives & the representatives of opponent political parties. Sometimes, irregular flow of MGNREGS fund was also a struggle to continue the work in pace.

District/Block/Gram Panchayat: The Bankura district of West Bengal has initiated a program called USHARMUKTI under the guidance of State MGNREGA Cell and its prime objective is to do large scale water conservation in pursuit of the noble mission of rejuvenating the dying rivers & rivulets of Bankura District. The Block administration has spearheaded the venture and orchestrate movements towards the desired mission. The concerned Gram Panchayats have also taken initiative to make it a unique success – bringing all relevant stakeholders in same platform, including the forest department also.

Cost & Financial Year: 29.9 Lakh in 2018-19

Implementation Process:

How the work was implemented: During 2016-17, the women SHG members of few villages have been oriented on the importance of cultivating vegetables in this region and they have started the same. They have also started to get return from that- but soon after the monsoon ends, the production suddenly decreases due to unavailability of irrigation. Strong need of creating irrigation sources have been felt by the women and started exploring the scope to create such irrigation structures to ensure the productivity.

Hamlet level meeting has been organised with video show to develop a perspective around the land & water-based infrastructures which can be instrumental to address the land & water-based issues around agriculture & utilization of fallow lands. Exposure of community members to other treated watershed area helped the community to develop a perspective around Land & Water based activities through ridge to valley approach. The exposure has significantly contributed to change the perspective around the same. The structures constructed in that watershed area organised into clusters helps the community to understand the concept of ridge to valley treatment along with excavation of hapa in series also helps to visualize the desired impact. The PRI members were also accompanied to the exposures to develop the perspective around watershed approach instead of an approach of creating large ponds in isolation being the only solution to the land & water-based issues. A vision also developed during the exposure of creating small Water Harvesting Structures (WHS) through Individual Benefit Schemes (IBS) which can be more effective to address the problems of small and marginalized farmers. The SHG members along with community have prepared a detail plan through field visit after preparing the resource maps, present land use and problem maps. Though they were hopeful but not able to find the way about the implementation of the same.

At that moment Usharmukti – a mission for salvation from barrenness has brought a smile in the gloomy faces of those women with the hope of getting year-round employment as well as a scope to flourish the livelihood opportunities through land & water-based asset creation.

During the watershed planning with the community, it has been observed that the community has already taken initiative to save their agriculture lands with their traditional knowledge and wisdom. The community has gradually stacked boulders on the gullies to check the soil erosion which have been found quite effective to save poor people’s agriculture lands. In civil engineering, this kind of structures are known as Loose Boulder Check which helps in preventing soil erosion by holding the deposits, reduce the speed of surface run-off causing non widening of gullies and creates scope for infiltration, thus improves the vegetation and seepages in agriculture lands. As the effectiveness of those traditional structures were already visible, the Usharmukti plan incorporates the plan of treating the gullies by Loose Boulder Check to save the agriculture lands. After getting the sanction also, it was not possible to implement without the consent from the forest dept. To respond the need of the community, the Rautora Gram Panchayat took the initiative to bring the issue in the notice of BDO, Ranibandh. And finally the enthusiastic community, proactive PRI, sensitive Block administration could influence the forest dept. to allow the implementation of the work.

The SHG members were actively engage in planning process to implementation. They not only have taken charge of the supervisor role but also actively engaged in giving layout to ensure quality works, generating demand, taking measurement and submitting muster-roll. The process initiated in villages like Birbandh, Kharujhor, Kawatanga with the firm determination to change the village has now spread across other villages. Peoples along with PRI members from nearby villages have come to the villages to understand the movement around land & water-based activity in the Birbandh village where those SHG members have shared the journey to spearhead the concept they have learned from their experience. Though the volume of the works implemented yet are not huge but the effort & co-operation extended by both the community and the Gram Panchayat have helped to break the stigma of poor quality of works by demonstrating the standard of the works implemented and the progress towards the patch treatment keeping the focus on ridge-to-valley approach. The excavation depth of the WHS with proper steps along with good maintenance of the plantation site have helped the community to realize their strength that they also can bring changes in the village through USHARMUKTI work. Recently, in Birbandh village in Ranibandh, the quality of work and the positive work culture between the community and the community leaders set an example not only in Ranibandh block but this has also become an exposure ground for the neighbouring Districts. PRI members, community leaders from Jhargram District (another poverty prone tribal dominated district) came to visit Birbandh, Kharujhor to understand as to how community leaders from various political background along with PRI and community came together to implement the land & water development work through MGNREGS.

Convergence (if any): In the dry barren lands Arjuna plants have been raised and that is a host tree for Tussar rearing. In those plants for scientific cocoon production, an initiative has been taken under the MKSP-NTFP project having active collaboration with the Central Silk Board and that has yielded a good result in producing Tussar cocoons.

Implementing agency: For the MGNREGS work the PIA is the Barikul & Rautora Gram Panchayat of Ranibandh Development Block, Bankura. And for the MKSP project the PIA is a Civil Society organization called PRADAN which was also involved for the technical guidance in the water conservation work taken up in this region.

Outstanding contribution by individuals/ functionaries (if any): In this excellent work, there were active support from many stakeholders. But here in this unique venture, the determination of the SHG tribal women for developing the villages remain an outstanding example for community taking charge for transforming their own lives as well as rejuvenating the nature –neither their initial failure nor their critique from the male counterparts could stop them from chasing their dream.

Impact:

What are the benefits of the project and how it has changed the lives of villagers and beneficiary?

In Birbandh, Kharujhor till now 26.25 Acre fallow uplands have been covered with social forestry along with 30-40 & staggered trench water conservation model treatment on uplands. Along with that 12 WHS have been created in series and that will harvest 45.7 lakh cft water this year. In one hand the harvested water will be used for agriculture production enhancements and the other hand it will recharge the sub-surface water. As the soil has low moisture retention capacity (especially in medium uplands), most of the year there is a shortage of water in paddy cultivation (especially during the flowering stage at the end of October) for most of the medium uplands which causes low production of paddy. “ Jyotsna rate dhan more “ – “paddy dies in the moonlight” – during the milking stage of the paddy there is scarcity of water and the plant dies. In spite of the poor experiences, farmers were rigid to change their traditional agriculture practices which causes the same vicious cycle year after year. But this year, 60 farmers from Birbandh & Kharujhor village have decided to go for Brinjal cultivation in those land with the support of WHS created and they have already raised 25000 seedlings for the same. Apart from this, the Arjuna plants on the barren lands have hosted the tussar silk worm for the first time in the village and it has given profit of Rs.55000 within 2-2.5 months’ engagement.

In Kawatanga village series of Loose boulder rock-check construction on gullies helped to save 15 Acre. agriculture lands from the ill effect of deposition of stones, pebbles and sand during heavy rainfall.

Interesting data representation before & after analysis.

During last year in Birbandh- Kharujhor village asset creation have been done of more than Rs.24 lakh and from that 17.6 lakh wage income have been generated for the community which has significantly contributed to change the trend of seasonal migration. The Kawatanga village is located in a very interior place and low awareness of the community doesn’t allow them to claim their rights of getting MGNREGS work within their village– now they have created 84 loose boulder rock checks and a pineapple orchard of 3400 plants- that work has generated 4.5 lakh wage earning for community of Kawatanga.

Voice from the Field

We could not hold water in our village-within few hours water flows along the slope to Hoogle, Burdwan (neighbour districts of Bankura) and people here also follows the same direction & migrate there to earn wages. We have applied many means to catch the water 30-40 model, staggered trench, plantation, hapa - we will grow vegetable with the irrigation from the hapa.

Aloki Tudu, Birbundh village

Our land use to remain fallow round the year, after rain stops the paddy also dies – but now water will remain in our village, moisture in our lands & paddy will not die anymore. We have come forward and never.

Sarathi Hansda, Birbundh village

Monsoon comes and brings sand & pebbles in our paddy land– but now the lands are protected with Rock checks and we will able to produce more paddy

Duttaram Hembram, Kawatanga village

Every year we get back from Burdwan with a mind to go back again there for wage earning - but this year it has never came to our mind; we are getting 100 days work in the village. Now onwards we will concentrate more on agriculture and will be able to take care of our children better.

Sandhya Hembram, Kawatanga village