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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

In Himachal, a lesson on how govt schemes can create kitchen gardens, parks and jobs

The Panchvati Yojana, along with Mukhyamantri Ek Bigha Yojna, which aims to promote kitchen gardening and strengthen the village economy, provided the much-needed healing touch to the common man affected by Covid-19.

Written by Rajesh Chander Sharma | Una |
Updated: October 27, 2021 11:25:16 am
An under-construction Panchvati at Dhundla (Express photo)

For Paramjit Singh, 52, it is all in the family. Earlier, he was pradhan of Kuriala Gram Panchayat in Una district, Himachal Pradesh, from January 2016 to January 2021. Now his wife, Jaswinder Kaur, 49, is the pradhan. The project that started under him last November is scheduled to see the light of day under his wife this November. And it has lit up his face.

“Even before inauguration, this place overflows with people in the evenings. I can see happy faces all around. This was not the case last year. Then the faces were grim and the situation was grimmer due to the pandemic. Many from our village had lost their jobs. They were back in the village and struggling to make ends meet. Then this place, overgrown with weeds and shrubs, made a difference to a few lives,” says Paramjit, pointing to the newly developed park.

At a kitchen garden created under the Ek Bigha Yojana. (Express Photo)

The place underwent a makeover under the Panchvati Yojana designed to develop parks and gardens in rural areas. Additionally, it generated employment.

The Panchvati Yojana, along with Mukhyamantri Ek Bigha Yojna, which aims to promote kitchen gardening and strengthen the village economy, provided the much-needed healing touch to the common man affected by Covid-19. Linked with MGNREGA, the two were launched last year — the first one in June and the last one in May.

At the launch of these schemes, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur had said the pandemic had forced planners to rethink and reformulate policies and programmes with a special focus on rural development.

Rural Development Minister Virender Kanwar says, “The pandemic and the lockdown caused immeasurable suffering. We told the panchayats to go ahead with works without prior approval. That was meant to generate employment. With these schemes, we tried to apply balm to the people.”

Figures speak for themselves: in 2020-21 financial year, 336.19 lakh persondays were generated under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which is higher than 285.20 lakh persondays in 2018-19 and 259.19 lakh persondays in 2019-20. Similarly, in 2020-21, an expenditure of Rs 988.95 lakh was incurred under the MGNREGA, which was again higher than Rs 849.48 lakh in 2018-19 and 708.97 lakh in 2019-20.

As for Kuriala Panchvati, a total of 193 persondays were generated under the MGNREGA. Around 15-20 people worked every day.

Panchayat secretary Harpal Singh, 43, explains the expendituree part. “There is a convergence of funds from various schemes such as MGNREGA, 14th Finance Commission and Swachh Bharat Mission. Solar lights have been installed with Rs 43,300 from the 14th Finance Commission. Community toilets have been built with Rs 3 lakh from Swachh Bharat Mission. An amount of Rs 4,38,780 has been sanctioned from MGNREGA. Besides, Rs 1 lakh has been given from the MLA fund,” he says.

The end result is a beautiful park with green plants, benches, swings, solar lights, community toilets, gazebo, open-air gym and walking area with a small raised portion meant to provide acupressure.
There is another Panchvati under construction at Dehlan Upper Panchayat.

“The work was stalled due to rain and other issues. As soon as the next instalment of funds comes, we will wrap up the work in two-three months,” says Rajinder Pal, 44, pradhan of the panchayat.

At Dhundla Panchayat, two Panchvaties are being developed in the hilly area. Both have water bodies, still and serene, one big and the other small. Both are blessed with the bounties of nature.

“There is a plan to connect the two parks with stairs and a plain path,” says Sushma Kumari, 36, pradhan of the panchayat.

“We employed JCB machines to beautify this lake. We intend to breed fish here,” says Raman Sharma, 43, up-pradhan.

According to the government figures, a total of 527 Panchvati park sites have been identified in the state. Out of these, four parks have been completed while work is in progress at 359 sites.

The Mukhyamantri Ek Bigha Yojna has brought a sea change for Rita Devi, a resident of Thana Kalan village. The barren land near her house situated in a hilly area has been levelled and now it has plants of orange, lemon and mango. There are two plants of apple as well. She has also sown seeds of onion, cauliflower and brinjal.

“Around 15-20 people used to work here under MGNREGA every day, observing Covid norms. I too worked with them,” says Rita, 45. “Hamara kaam bhi ho gaya aur sabka bhala bhi ho gaya (My work has been accomplished and it has benefited others as well).”

Bindu Devi, 34, is another beneficiary of the same village. The barren land near her house too has been levelled and turned into a kitchen garden. Now it has plants of mango, orange and lemon.

“There are five members in my family. All of us have MGNREGA job cards. All of us worked here,” she says.

Nirmala Devi, a resident of Thana Khas village, went in for the levelling of her land on the top of a hill. The land is more than one bigha and its new look has made her more than happy. Now it has plants of mango, lemon, orange and litchi.

“Ab achchha lag raha hai (Now it is looking good),” says Nirmala, 54. There are four MGNREGA job card holders in her family.

Thana Kalan Panchayat secretary Madhu Bala, 28, says the pandemic caused unemployment but the Mukhyamantri Ek Bigha Yojana created employment.

“Barring those who are in government service, others in our village got MGNREGA job cards over a period of time,” she says. “More cards meant less livelihood worries.”

According to the government figures, under the Mukhyamantri Ek Bigha Yojana, a total of 11,401 works have been sanctioned. Out of these, 6,119 have been started and 1,517 have been completed.

Then there is another scheme, MGNREGA Samgr, which was designed by Raghav Sharma, the then Additional Deputy Commissioner of Kangra, in May last year. The objective was to provide comfort to those hit by Covid. Under this scheme confined to Kangra and Una districts, Block Development Officers (BDOs) were given powers to approve individual works.

“The BDOs were given a target of 30 development works per panchayat in order to generate employment,” says Sharma, who is now Deputy Commissioner of Una.

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