Sabita Rupini, 37, of Chindraipara Rupini Basti in Baramura Hills, is one among the many handicrafts artisans who was brought to Agartala and trained by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)’s Tripura Project in 2014, and then again in 2016. She was provided raw materials for bamboo tanning and processing and a workshop to showcase her handicrafts at industries fair in Agartala and New Delhi. That is not all. Sabita, who has been recognised by the Office of Development Commission (Handicrafts) under the Ministry of Textiles, is also registered as a cane and bamboo artisan with them.
However, four years since her training, Sabita can be seen selling vegetables along National Highway 8. This is because the project employs her and others for only three to four months in a year, for the Tripura Industries Fair and a few other handloom and handicrafts expo in Agartala.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Rupini said she has a family of four including her parents. Her father Joychandra Rupini, a sexagenarian, cannot fend for the family like before.
Joychandra has been engaged in ‘jhum’ or shifting cultivation for decades. The family survives on rice that comes from slash and burn cultivation.
“I collect wild arum, bamboo shoots, banana and other wild fruits available in the forests. I sell these by the roadside along the National Highway,” Sabita said. This fetches her anything between Rs. 100-200 in day. Two of Sabita’s brothers work as daily wage labourers.
Explaining why her handicraft venture didn’t work out, Sabita said, “They (government) would give us work orders for only a few months. It was not financially viable as a livelihood. Besides, we live in Baramura Hills, where there are not many options. So, I try to earn whatever I can by selling wild vegetables.”
Sabita’s story reached the incumbent BJP-IPFT government and Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb invited her to an event two days ago at Agartala where Tripura joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his nationwide inauguration of 12 micro, small and medium enterprises support and outreach schemes.
Speaking at the event, Deb said people like Sabita slipped into oblivion as the previous Left Front government failed to ensure that its schemes and programmes sustained. He said his government would provide adequate work orders, marketing and logistics support to all handicraft artisans.
Bisu Narayan Rupini, a neighbour of Sabita, and president of local Joint Forest Management Committee said the closing of Tripura JICA project, which was launched a decade ago, hit them hard.
“The JICA project closed down and there was a shortage of work order for Sabita and other artisans like her. That’s when their work stopped,” he said.
On April 1 this year, a notification said the employment tenure of 638 contractual workers under Tripura JICA Project was extended by six months —till September this year.
However, a second notification on April 20 by Project Director of Tripura JICA project GS Raju (now retired) stated, “All contractual staff and outsourced personnel of the PMU (project management unit) need not attend office with immediate effect.”
The employees placed their demands for reinstatement before the Chief Minister. The CM said works and achievements of the JICA project in Tripura would be reviewed and employees would be re-engaged in the second phase of project work.
The second phase is yet to start.
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