January 31, 2011 4:55:51 am
Two-and-A-half years ago,Kandhamal was tagged as a national shame,after communal violence triggered by the killing of a Hindu seer left 38 people dead,with houses and churches burnt and vandalised,and thousands of people homeless.
But on February 2,Kandhamal is set to get a different tag one of national pride as the Union Ministry of Rural Development awards it for being one of the top 10 districts which have implemented the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) effectively.
What set Kandhamal apart was the kind of work it did in the difficult circumstances, said N K Sahu,director (monitoring wing) in the Ministry of Rural Development. Kandhamal has been chosen for using NREGS to generate livelihood and promote communal harmony.
Sahu,accompanied by a team of officials from the ministry,visited Baliguda and Phulbani blocks in Kandhamal last week. The team was From Kandhamal Burning to Kandhamal Shining impressed with the building of roads and farm ponds in Mediakia village,Sirtiguda gram panchayat and Sindhipankhala.
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What made Kandhamals achievement more noteworthy is that the district fared badly in implementing the NREGS in 2008-09 due to the riots. It spent just Rs 22.57 crore during that period. In contrast,the district spent Rs 64.20 crore in 2009-10.
While the number of families who got at least 100 days work was 1,020 in 2008-09,the figure shot up to 7,305 in 2009-10.
In Kandhamal,more than 56 per cent of the eligible families were covered under NREGS while the national average is about 23 per cent. Kandhamal even bettered the state average of 25 per cent, said Sushil Kumar Lohani,director (special projects) in the state Panchayati Raj Department. The manner in which the district utilised its natural resources for NREGS could set an example for other districts, he said.
It was not an easy journey for Kandhamal. Even before the riots,the district was at the bottom of the development graph.
In the Food Security Atlas of Rural Orissa a report prepared by the Delhi-based Institute of Human Development on behalf of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) soon after the riots in 2008 Kandhamal was Orissas most insecure district in terms of food security. Kandhamal was ranked last among the 30 districts of Orissa. Rural connectivity was the worst as well as access to safe drinking water.
In December 2008,District Collector Krishan Kumar came up with the idea of using NREGS to narrow the widening divide between the majority Kandh tribals and Pano Dalits. The scheme has certain key properties like team-building spirit and if taken up well,it can work wonders, said Kumar.
A programme called Antaranga: Celebrating Diversity was started in which 7,500 youths representing every panchayat of the district mobilised workers for NREGS. Since youths were at the forefront of the conflict,making them partners in the development processes helped improve relationship between various sections.
Work supervisors for the NREGS programmes were members of the tribal and Dalit communities,which helped to bridge the barriers with the community. To quell the tribal resentment over their land being usurped,NREGS was used for improving the quality of their land secured through Forest Rights Act. So each tribal household who got a piece of land under FRA got monetary help for farm ponds,land development,irrigation well and plantation.
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