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snapshots of Change

Almost two decades ago,this village was heading for disaster. Years of drought had left farmland fallow,electricity was erratic and the nearest telephone was 10 km away

Written by Agencies | Published: January 1, 2012 11:07:56 pm

Planting prosperity
How social forestry turned around a village’s fortunes


Almost two decades ago,this village was heading for disaster. Years of drought had left farmland fallow,electricity was erratic and the nearest telephone was 10 km away. Just as many residents were torn between selling off their land and shifting base,along came a little tried yet courageous idea—social forestry.

Soon,around 400 hectares of forest land within the Jaloi panchayat might well be worth more than Rs 500 crore thanks to a sustained social forestry drive of the sheesham or Indian Rosewood trees and a winning combination of the forest department and the local gram panchayat. The developed forest has already financed a water tank for school water supply,a school gate,roads and even water harvesting and irrigation programmes for Jaloi and its surrounding villages.

Narayan Kularia,54,then the sarpanch of Jaloi,recalls,“We had acres of grazing land,but not even grass or weeds grew on it. The forest department had sought some land for social forestry and had decided to grow babul trees.”

“Some forest officials and villagers suggested we plant something that can sustain the village later and settled on sheesham trees,” Kularia says.

It was in 1992-1993 that the forest department acquired the first tract of land in Jaloi—around 40 hectares. Forest official,Balvir Singh,who had remained in Jaloi since then,remembers the public outcry against the idea.

The plan included the forest department acquiring a fixed area of land from the gram panchayat and developing a forest. Rajasthan Head of Forest Force (HOFF) R N Mehrotra explains,“The forest department takes control of the land and develops it for a period of five years after which,the land is returned to the panchayat. While in most other panchayats across the state,the trees were cut,in Jaloi,the panchayat decided to continue development of the land.” Now,of the 400 hectares of forest land in Jaloi,it is punishable to cut trees. “The villagers themselves are guards since they have understood the value of the forest. Any person caught chopping wood is fined,” says Kularia. He adds that once every two or three years,depending on the condition of the forest,some of its produce is sold and the proceeds used to develop the village.

Once a fierce detractor of the project,Ratan Lal Gurjjar has come around to the idea of social forestry. “I thought it was a waste of time and money,but after witnessing the change,I actively work towards conserving this forest. Now,we are the watchers and watch ourselves as well,” says Gurjjar. He adds that sufficient rainfall for two years has only helped better the forest and after working with water conservationists,Jaloi has even raised its water table. In Jaloi’s ideal world,the 400 hectares of sheesham will usher in an age of development unheard of. Says Kularia,“The Chief Minister himself in 2010 had said our land is worth Rs 500 crore,so why should we lose out by chopping trees and making a quick buck now. We will tend to it and it will provide us schools,roads,housing,medical facilities and perhaps even a pension. What government can promise and deliver us that?”

Doctor on a mission
In eastern UP,a doctor spreads awareness on how to control encephalitis. Villagers join his campaign

Maulshree Seth

In pockets of eastern Uttar Pradesh,he is known simply as the “encephalitis doctor”. Dr RN Singh,a private practitioner in encephalitis-affected eastern Uttar Pradesh,has worked hard to earn that name. Singh adopted Holiya village in Kushinagar district to showcase it as a model village and controlled the disease through simple and low cost methods like disinfecting drinking water through sun rays,vaccination,fogging and spreading awareness about early symptoms of encephalitis and the significance of hygiene. “The journey so far has not been easy but I have enjoyed it,” says 64-year-old Singh.

It was the death of one of his patients in April 2005 that changed the way Singh looked at encephalitis. Over the last few years,he’s worked relentlessly to spread awareness on a disease that last year alone claimed 630 lives in UP.

Son of a lawyer,Singh belongs to Samardhira village of Mahrajganj,one of the encephalitis affected districts in eastern UP. He came to Gorakhpur when he was in class VI,and went on to pursue his MBBS at LLRM Medical college in Meerut in 1973. He worked in the pediatrics department of BRD Medical College,Gorakhpur,till 1978 and then began his private practice in Gorakhpur.

“People laughed at me when I talked of proper case reporting,JE vaccination,second dose,aerial fogging,drinking water purification using sun rays. But ultimately everyone agreed that these are the best possible ways to save kids and I am happy that today local businessmen,students,politicians volunteer to do something for encephalitis eradication in the region,” says Singh.

Experts as well as villagers appreciate his efforts today. “Dr Singh is very passionate about his campaign and strongly believes in it. As an expert,I personally believe that this disease can be controlled to a large extent with such mass participation and collective efforts towards awareness about proper sanitation,basic hygiene and clean drinking water facilities,” says Dr KP Kushwaha,head of the pediatrics department and officiating principal at the BRD Medical College.

Manoj Kumar,a farmer in Holiya village and brother of an encephalitis affected girl Sanju says,“Initially,we didn’t like it when Dr Singh would talk about the disease but now we understand his point.” Today,Kumar as well as his neighbours have joined Singh’s campaign. “As time moved on,we realised that Dr Singh is fighting the battle for us. My neighbours decided to assist him in spreading the awareness and so did I.” says Kumar.

Playing the learning card
In over 45,000 schools across Karnataka,children aged five to eight have been learning to read and write through colourful cards alone

V Shoba

Eight-year-old Anjaneya S paces through three pages of an English workbook that demonstrate the use of negative conjunctions. He sits cross-legged on a jute rug that covers the floor,behind him a blackboard wiped clean. At the Government Lower Primary School in Malleswaram,Bangalore,as in other schools across in Karnataka,blackboards are a thing of the past. Nali Kali,a system of activity-based learning first developed in 1995 by teachers in Mysore with assistance from UNICEF,was introduced in lower primary schools across the state four years ago. A revolution in classroom learning,it dispenses with books and examinations and focuses on learning to read and write through song,dance,art,craft and flash cards.

Educationists have repeatedly questioned the effectiveness of Nali Kali,which has seen teachers embrace a radically different and more demanding system. Others,however,aren’t convinced. VR Prasanna,who heads the Sikshana Foundation,an NGO that works with over 400 primary schools in Karnataka,says one problem is that children learn to read the Nali Kali course material but can read little else.

However,at the GLPS on 16th cross,Malleswaram—a single room hidden behind a college building—the 30-plus children from Classes I-V couldn’t be happier. Some are seated in a circle on one side of the room,playing a mathematics-based game on a board that has a custard apple drawn on it. Sections of the fruit are carved with numbers zero to nine and each child rolls a set of dice twice to select numbers to add. Colourful charts line the walls and a wire grid with hand-made cards suspended from it stretches overhead from end to end. Games,puzzles and flash cards form the necessary chaos of the room. “Nali Kali has reduced the number of dropouts. All our children come from slums and their parents have no time or money to spare for their education. So we give very little homework and try to make the classroom a fun place to learn,” says Bharathi SR,one of two teachers at the school.

One small wall in the classroom is filled entirely with bags bulging with notebook-sized cards. In over 45,000 schools across Karnataka,children aged five to eight have been,for the last three-four years,learning to read and write through these colourful cards alone. Under Nali Kali,there are learning cards for teaching Kannada,English,Mathematics and Social Science to Classes I-III. The cards are sorted into pockets,one for each step of the “learning ladder”. The Class I Kannada syllabus,for instance,is spread across 17 steps or chapters,totalling 350 cards. The early steps are about learning the alphabet and identifying images and words associated with them. The advanced steps require the student to write words in their workbooks and learn to read stories.

CM Rajendra,director of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in Karnataka,says Nali Kali has been so successful that the government is thinking of extending it to Class IV. “We have had a great response so far. So there’s reason to think it will be successful this time too,” he says.

Indeed,parents like Gomathi Amman,a 32-year-old construction site worker and mother of three who lives in Kanakapura taluk,would welcome such a move. Her two younger children,Mini,five,and Vikram,seven,attend a government school and love studying Math. “They come home every day with stories about learning tables and counting through song and dance. At first we thought they weren’t learning anything at school,but they have developed a real interest in studies,” she says.

A passport to better governance
Passport Seva Kendras redefine the idea of government service with quick delivery and comfort

Pritha Chatterjee

Mukhtyar Ali belongs to a small town called Nuh in the Mewat district. At 57,Ali and his wife Sakina,50,have finally stepped into a passport office. After trying for five years to get that ticket to their Haj pilgrimage—the ‘dreaded’ passport—the couple cannot believe their luck. “This time,we were told to apply on a computer. And look,they actually gave me an appointment for coming here.” Ali,a carpenter by profession,gushes as he breaks into a toothless smile of surprise at the Passport Seva Kendra in Gurgaon.

Ali cannot read or write. He is illiterate according to the online form filled in his name. However,it does not prevent him from exclaiming at the wonders of the “computer dabba”. “I got a boy in our local cyber cafe to help me fill the form,and they called me today at 1 p.m. It was that simple,” Ali says. For the last five years,he claims he has made “more than 50” futile trips to the passport office,stood in queue for four-five hours at a stretch,been offered help by touts for “fees” ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 5,000,and inevitably given up each time.

In a year of gloomy ends to highly anticipated PPP projects,the newly christened Passport Seva Kendras (PSK),running in partnership with the Tata Consultancy Services ,provide the proverbial ray of hope. The programme was one of the initiatives under the e-governance project of the Ministry of Information Technology in 2006 that was based on the premise that literacy levels notwithstanding,the Internet would become an undisputed way of life for Indians.

Starting from January 2011,it is now compulsory for passport applicants,who for years have been braving touts and queues and babus,to submit their forms online.

The front end of the passport distribution mechanism,which primarily covers the application,is being managed by TCS. The verification of documents and grant of passports is under the Ministry of External Affairs. Muktesh Pardeshi,the Chief Passport Officer and incharge of this programme across the country,says,“We had three goals. First,to bring some physical comfort and treat applicants with dignity. Second,to bring an efficient system that reduced the time involved in applications. Finally,we wanted to bring in transparency by removing the middle men and eliminating file delays.”

The swanky office of the PSK is a far cry from the average Indian’s idea of a passport office: a strictly appointment-based entry,stringent frisking by security personnel,distribution of tokens as per appointments,giant display boards flashing the token numbers,plush waiting lounges,glass doors,airconditioned rooms,and computerised kiosks operating as help desks for those that get lost in this beehive of activity.

To 37 passport offices across the country that came up over 60 years,in 2011,34 new PSKs were added to this list. To start the new year with this note of hope,five new PSKs were opened in Gujarat on December 31—two of them,in Surat and Rajkot,which never hoped to see a passport office.

Keeping this spirit of hope alive,the MEA expects to complete the total 77 PSKs planned under the project by March 2012.

The watershed village
A village learns to save water to conquer the vagaries of climate change

Sushant Kulkarni

Sharada Madne,a 55-year-old labourer working in a pomegranate orchard at Sarole Pathar,a village of 300 families in Nagar district,animatedly narrates how a village vulnerable to whimsical rainfall about 20 years ago has come close to doing the unthinkable—conquering the vagaries of climate change. With watershed management,soil conservation measures,weekly agriculture advisory based on weather condition and a voluntary ban on water-intensive crops and borewells,Sarole Pathar has not just seen a turnaround of farming fortunes but,perhaps more importantly,a restoration of their traditional social fabric—villagers have more or less stopped thinking of migrating to cities.

Sarole Pathar is one of the 25 villages under the project Climate Change Adaptation being implemented by Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) and funded by NABARD and The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation since 2009 in Sangamner and Akole talukas. Building up on the foundation of the work done under Indo-German Watershed Development Project between 1996 and 2001,the project aims to make these 25 villages models of eco-friendly,sustainable development.

“I remember three consecutive years in the mid-80s when either of the kharif or rabi crop had failed due to lack of rains. We had just four wells in our village,” says 50-year-old Changdeo Ghule,a farmer. “That was when many people from surrounding villages had to migrate to cities. But now we have 104 open wells and all of them have water. We used to have wheat,jowar and bajra in our fields,with no surety of yield. Now we grow onions,pomegranate,potato,lintels and productivity of other crops has also gone up.”

Rajendra Zagade,the project coordinator with WOTR says,“The stone barrages on the slopes built with villagers’ participation have helped in harvesting of water and has also stopped the erosion due to the water running off. This has stopped silting of the dams down the slope. Much more water is available in the wells in plain areas.”

It was also observed that even when water was available,farmers were using traditional methods of farming with rampant usage of fertilisers to worsen the situation. “We installed automatic weather parameter measurement systems in every village. We have three dedicated agronomists for each of the clusters of eight villages in project area. Agriculture tips are issued weekly to every village based on these measurements and soil parameters. People wait for the tips almost like we wait for movies releases every Friday,” smiles Zagade.

The results are also visible in the society. Madne,a labourer in the pomegranate orchard,talks about her nephew who did his diploma in agriculture science three years ago and preferred to stay back in the village instead of moving to the city or appear for government services examination. “He has even started emu farming with two other agriculture graduates in our village,” she says.

Against the grain
Nalanda farmers break world record for paddy production with an innovative method

Santosh Singh

Sumant Kumar,a small farmer who owns three acres,has become the rallying point for those who believe in the Bihar resurgence. He has recorded paddy production of 224 quintal a hectare,way more than the world record of 190 quintal a Chinese agricultural scientist,Yuan Longping,made seven years ago. Sumant and four other farmers—Krishna Kumar Krishna (207 quintal a hectare),Nitish Kumar (196 quintal a hectare),Vijay Kumar (192 quintal a hectare) and Sanjay Prasad Singh (190 quintal a hectare)—become icons of growth in 2011.

These five Nalanda farmers used the SRI (system of rice intensification) method,developed in Madagascar in early 1980s by a French priest. The SRI plants develop strong roots and stalks,and more tillers,with higher yields and even better rice quality—all with less input of water,seeds and other capitals. Rice plants under SRI methods have shown to better resist drought,water logging and wind damages. The method was first used in India in 2002,but it is still far from getting wide acceptance.

Only 13 farmers of the village were sanctioned subsidy to grow paddy by the SRI method for one acre each. The village,located by the side of the seasonal Sakri river,grows rice on 1,200 bighas. The river brings fertile alluvial soil to only 400 bighas.

“We were very apprehensive about the new method as our traditional method would get us better yield than most other places in Bihar. With government subsidy coming our way,we tried our luck with the SRI,” says Sumant. “Much to our surprise,one sapling brought forth over 100 plants. It was also easy to weed out grass because of fair distance between two rows. It is now a challenge to repeat the performance next year,” says Sumant’s father,Ramanuj Pravin.

Sumant says as he had chosen to become a farmer,it felt nice to achieve a landmark. “The CM Nitish Kumar told us to replicate the experience in wheat as well,” he says.

“The SRI method has also brought down cultivation expenses from Rs 20,000 to Rs 15,000 per bigha. We are very happy to get thrice the price from the SRI method,” says Nitish Kumar,one of the five farmers.

Now other village farmers want the government to give subsidy to to them too and for more than one acre cultivation.

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