Success Story of MNREGA : Khatra,Bankura,West Bengal

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My recent visit to Khatra Subdivision  is a windfall  to my experience.  The panoramic views of Mukutmanipur and surroung hills .hillocks and dam has  undeniably  smoothened my mind. However I got much more than expectation while visiting success  of MNREGAs here. On other days whenever I roamed Jungle Mahal  I had been skeptic as well as pessimistic about MNREGA.  I saw scattered ,unplanned and unproductive works done with the support of this mega project.  Community as a whole harvested little from it. Sporadic ventures failed to make it sustainable and productive.  Multiple positive buds from MNREGA did not come out.  Seldom people felt it their project. This very impression   pained me  every time. However, after visiting  orchard rearing under the umbrella MNREGA in Khatra sub-division changed my mind set. Now I am hopeful with the inherent power of the project  on seeing some of those brilliant works.

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Basipur village- the Holy Pir’s abode

At the crossing of Durgapur High way & Magra-Gurap road we halted and were searching for tea stalls. There are a few tea-stalls always crowded by passersby. I took comfort on sitting over chaip…

Source: Basipur village- the Holy Pir’s abode

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Basipur village- the Holy Pir’s abode

IMG_4747At the crossing of Durgapur High way & Magra-Gurap road we halted and were searching for tea stalls. There are a few tea-stalls always crowded by passersby. I took comfort on sitting over chaipai and ordered for tea.. In the meanwhile I saw huge toy-like structures flattened on the road margin. These toys were of different colours, designs and shapes. I was curious enough and asked someone:
– “Is there any fair nearby?”
– “no.. these are not for fairs. They are made for offerings to the Pirbaba of Basipur”
– “ Basipur? Where is it?”
The person pointed to a village,it is about half kms. Walk from where we are.
My curiosity moved further. I asked again” why do they offer?”
– “ Basipur is endowed with the blessings of Pirbaba. People from all over come here for cure of their broken bones. There are now 15-16 progenies who are doing this.”
– -How?
– They are experts. They set the fractured bones and bind the spot with some wild plants. It acts magically.
I was surprised. I looked at a mid-aged person who was purchasing the offerings.
-“ Hello.. what happened to you?’
– my forearm was broken. I came to Basipur and by the grace of Pir I am cured.
Then i found a woman whom I raied the same question.She replied
“ I had fractured at the toe. I was hospitalized. Anyway I could not recovered from the pain. Finally I came at Basipur and now I am fit. I will my respect to the Pir today.”

Thereafter I got many stories of Basipur. I was glazing towards the road where people were moving towards Basipur. I am fixed with faiths and science.

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Murlu village – A hub of tiles-making

Saltora is one of the border blocks of Bankura bounded by ups & hills, forests and red-lateritic soil. This block represents almost a dry prone area inhabited by resource poor community. The beautiful Biharinath or the heritage village Tiluri fall under this block. The journey to Raghunathpur through Saltora is pleasant, charming and scenic.
A small village ,Murlu along with the main road is awesome. Every house is a factory. Everyone is engaged in creation of roof-tiles . kuccha- moulded tiles in front of houses would give you artistic taste . These are of different designs, different shapes & of uses. All are done with minimum resources using inherited technology. Recently some touches of modernization have been tried but traditional tile-making is dominant. Tile-making is a household industry. Family members normally do the complete job. In case of necessity or huge order hired labours are drawn.
Tile-making is the livelihood of the villagers. It is also the main activity surrounding Saltora. The process of manufacturing is natural and the product is natural . Around six hundred families are directly dependent on this activity.
I was talking with Sambunath Kumbhakar –a resident of Murlu. According to him there is huge demand of tiles. Murlu tiles go to Jharkhand and Bihar states. Murlu has its own reputation. Its brand-name possesses wide market.
However, he pointed out the newly expanding stone-making business in the block. Crashers will eventually crash the inherited traditional practices of tile-making.

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Akhan Yatra in Ajodhya Hills

IMG_6609Today is the first day of Magha. This day has much significance in rural community in Purulia district, particularly in Chotanagpur plateau. People here call it the day of Akhan Yatra. It is the first day of the year. It is the most auspicious day of the year.
Day before Akhan Yatra community have already celebrated Makar dipping in the sacred rivers, rivulets , ponds or tanks. Thereby, they have cleansed their body and mind. Now ready for coming days with hope . Akhan Yatra is the beginning of prosperous days do they believe. Traditionally they start a happy journey praying to the Almighty for colourful and cheerful days.
Bishnu Charan of Kalimati left his bed in the very morning. He went to the farm-yard adjacent to home. With his spade he would now make ups-& downs of the Gobar-kur( where cowdung are stored). He will transfer the materials from right-side to left-side. They have strong believe that Bura-baba will sour blessings upon the family when they reshuffle cow-dung on Akhan-day. On returning from court-yard, Bishnu will be welcomed by his family members. In compliment, his feet will by washed – turmeric-water will be sprang upon his feet. Thus the first operation of agricultural operation starts in his family. This is the usual practice in every households of Kalimati,Baghmundi.
Agriculture based rituals are firmly interwoven in the lifestyle of Kurmis of Manbhum. Bishnu along with his family members would thereafter move to the farm. They will celebrate the Bura-baba there staying upon the large stone beside one of the plots. Bura-baba is offered with Sinni and ganja. They believe once bura-baba is pleased he would return good harvest.
Joydev Mahata & others starts Akhan Yatra in similar way. Local customs differ from one area to another. In Jhalda region, the cow-boy locally called Bagal goes to the field with plow, bulls & ropes. The boy will make three rounds in the field. The first ploughing is being made on the Akhan day. The bulls are given special diets. They are cleaned today. Sooner the cow-boy returns from the field, house-hold members will pour turmeric mixed oil in his ears. The boy will be offered with Dai(curd) & chira.
Raghunath Dhan of Baghmundi waits for the Akhan Day. Dhan has been caring the pair of pigeons for the last three months. He would reach to the Matha-buru hills afternoon. Many others from the locality visit the place today. They will let free pigeons for peace & eternity. They all enjoy Matha-buru parab equally. They feel ecstasy while flagging red-salu at the top of the hill with vows. Mud made idols are also offered in the name of the deity.
Akhan Yatra is related with fairs at different pockets of Ajodhya Hills. Sati-ghat mela is famous one. Tusus are brought there. Melodious songs, majestic Pata-nach dance. sports, hen-fight( murgi-lari) gives a colourful day. Akhan Yatra is the day of happiness.
The day is remembered for pitha-festival. There is a proverb: Auri-Bauri-Makar: Pitha is consumed three days starting from Bauri-the day before Makar. Pithas are offered in the name of ancestors. On Akhan day rice-dust (chal-guri) is offered to five generations.
Akhan day is the day of remembrance of past, culture and wisdom.
I wish Suva Akhan Yatra to all .

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Tamarind- A Potential Crop for Paschimanchal

Seeing even hearing the name everyone becomes crazy- it is none but mouth-watering tamarind. In Bengali it is called ‘tentul’, and in Andhra they call as immli. It is wildly as well as informally grown everywhere. Tamarind is an evergreen spice tree having enormous in-built capacity to withstand adversities. This plant is a neglected one and has been as an orphan crop in West Bengal. Its tremendous potentiality in rough terrain has not been explored.
During last month I had been travelling through some parts of Paschimanchal. I saw the drought, parched lands, withered paddy and paucity of water wherever I moved. I was passing through a tribal village. Suddenly , I was struck to see a group of tribal women under a tamarind tree with huge green leaves and tender fruits of tamarind. I came to them and asked” what will you do with these leaves?”
-“ we will feed our goats and sheep”-replied one of them. Another one said” we also make cuisines with green leaves and soft-fruits. These are fine dish to us.”
I asked” do you have special dish”?
-yea- fish curry with leaves or fruits is tasteful and our favourite dish. See this time we have no plenty of vegetables.. tamarind is our boon in off-season. We make Chatny, pickles with tamarind.”
-“ Is there utility of this tree”?
“ It is God gifted tree. We get fuels, timbers. Our Dhekhi is made of tamarind-wood. It is so hardy.”
“ Its seed are crushed and fed to animals. Sometimes we sell them.”
“ Do you sell tamarind-fruit. “?
“yea. Paikars come and we sell to them”?
-“ What price do you get?”
-“ Rs. 7-8 per kg.”
I was astounded. Recently I purchased tamarind-paste which is Rs.80.00/kg. in the market. I could remember a news about three years back when turmeric price rose in the market, it touched Rs.100 per kilo and the AP Government began to purchase and sell tamarind through c-operatives to rescue the consumers as well as farmers selling at low price. Market information gap prevents tamarind-growers or collectors from the real price paid by consumers. Tamarind has large demand in our country. It has also huge demand in abroad. During 2013-14 16,000 tonnes of tamarind were exported valuing more than 94 crores. Total export value of tamarind was as high as Rs.123 crores during 2011-12.
Tamarind is well suited in drought prone areas. It can be integrated with farm-forestry program. At present there are quick growing varieties such as PKM_1, GKKV,Tumkur which comes to fruit bearing stage within 6-7 years. Those varieties have high yield potential. From a single tree one can harvest 2.50 Qtls of raw tamarind. The tree will yield for many years. One can have 70 kg. fine-tamarind paste from each plant. Moreover, turmeric, ginger or other tuber crops could be taken during the gestation period.
The crop requires no irrigation and can withstand temperature upto 46 degree is ideally suitable for Paschimanchal. Plantation of this plant will mitigate drought to an extent if done systematically.

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Naru Bauri & his innovative farming

Source: Naru Bauri & his innovative farming

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Naru Bauri & his innovative farming

Naru Bauri- a marginal farmer cum daily labourer unfolded many issues in Paschimanchal. I saw him and his farm on vijoya dashami . On that day I was moving towards Gurudi & surrounding villages to meet my beloved turmeric-ShG groups. It was a drought like situation in Bankura & Purulia and I wanted to see how far turmeric withstand the situation or what would be the loss this year. Every inch of the soil I stepped in showed moisture stress, I found paddy fields in shabby look, plants were wrinkled, stunted , bent down on the fields. Animals were free to graze in paddy fields without any obstruction. I was talking to passer buys, all were afraid of severe drought this year. There was no rains for the last two and half months. As I was moving, suddenly I struck to a pocket which is quite different from the rest. It was a complete carpet of greens. I got down from the car. Astonishing found a mid-aged stout person watering crops with a bucket. This was Naru Bauri. He has planted about seven bighas of land with bottle gourd. Within few minutes he won our hearts.
-“ Hey.. are you the owner of this land”?
-“no Sir, I am a poor fellow. The land belongs to the Mridhas”
I got an additional merit here. Naru is the symbol of community harmony. He has been permitted by another community to use the land. In village level all are peace loving people. They do not quarrel with religion. Naru was praising of Mridhas. However, another point I observed of effectiveness of implementation of MNREGA . A pond has been excavated by MNEREGA giving a source of irrigation. Naru has utilized it sowing gourd that requires minimum water. The choice of the crop was obviously by his experience . Naru got this cue as rural households rear gourd in their yards or roofs with less care. Naru planted ten thousands seed at the first rainfall. These plants grew naturally. He knows that gourds do not thrive in stagnant water. Thus he thought the bunds of the pond is ideal for it.During the last three months he accompanied by his wife & children watered plants manually . Buckets are his means. Naru has no sprayer. He made brooms as sprayers.
When I visited the farm i found green gourds ready for sale. I was also offered a round shaped gourd. Naru’s success story went to Sumit Biswas through my blogs. A coverage was made in Sambad Pratidin-a daily news paper. Naru became a buzz person.
Today a team headed by Samar Karmakar,Dy.Director (Soil Conservation) along with Shri Ashutosh sardar,Sub-Divisional agricultural officer and ADA, Adhikary came to see Naru’s farm. Sandip Sarkar captured his story for telecast in ETV. My friend Paresh Mazumdar co-ordinated the program.
Naru Bauri ushered in a new hope in dry areas.

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Exemplary MGNEREGA models for outcast

Exemplary MGNEREGA models for outcast

MGNEREGA supported orchards in Bankura district have ushered in new hope for the marginalized, poverty stricken folk in dry tracts of the district. The district has already earned acclamation for pro-poor friendly NEREGA models. I had the opportunity to visit a few orchards earlier . I was fascinated to see the Lipidiri mango projects near Mukutmonipur. Right now I recollect the names of Golapi Savar & Shanti Savar who accompanied me round the garden. In a tete-e-tete they expressed over-joy with the orchard-model. Their words “ we used to move Burdwan for jobs, we had to depend on land-lords and money lenders . Those are gone” still buzzing on my ears. I owe credit to the MGNEREGA cell, particularly Dr. Babulal Mahato- the then Dy.Magistrate of Khatra Sub-division for volunteering a lot in addition to his administrative schedule. There are other orchards, but this is unique in a sense that the nomadic tribe have been tied with the process of development.
Now I shall mention another model at Gouripur for the outcast, socially deprived people. This model has outclassed many models under MGNEREGA in the state as well as India. This particular model is for twenty three hapless families living in the leper colony adjacent to the hospital. They are cured lepers but socially rejected fellows.
Sooner I reached the garden I found a mid-aged came hurriedly albeit limping.
-“ what’s your name? What you do here?”
-“ I am Raju Ray”- ( name changed), I am watching the garden”.
A vast undulated area covering 30.70 hectares of land has been put to farming under MGNEREGA activity. It has been named Nirmala Activity Centre- for the cured but socially outcast lepers. Their activity is of setting up orchards, mainly mangoes, guavas. They have also been following inter-crop practices under the guidance of Dr. Babulal Mahato.
I asked Roy “ How do you see the farm under MGNEREGA?”
_” 100 days’ work for 100 years’ livelihood”- quickly he replied.
A small word with omnipotent realization I heard from a simple person. There is an ancient Egyptian quote on lepers :’ Death before death’ but Raju changed it ‘ Live before death’.
Let above two models be replicated for destitute and poorly understood people elsewhere.

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Renewing Turmeric & Spices perspective in Bankura district

A few days back I went to see some areas growing turmeric. I was moved to the prospects of this hardy crop in dry tracts. I documented as much as i could from the fields. Again, I got a call to visit Bankura and share with farmers on the perspective of spices. Initially I was hesitant to visit counting my age, health & family bindings. However I had to change my mind set as soon as I was told that Savars from Lipidiri will participate in a spice –workshop. The news sparked me and I consented to join with a condition that I must return back on the same day. I know the long distance I have to move but I had no alternative.
Yesterday we started from Kalyani at 6.30 a.m. The cloud surrounded us as we crossed the Ganges and reach Mogra. Thereafter it was raining.. non stop raining. The car moved with care and came to a break at Saktigarh. Nobody of us took umbrella. Nice gesture from the Langcha-shop( sweet-shop) who rescued us from the cab and made our safe reach to the shop. We finished our break-fast and till it was raining . The road became flooded. It is difficult to see anything from the windows. Lights were on. The discussion was whether we could be at right time or whether we have to turn back or whether participants would present if rain persists in Bankura & surroundings. We were keeping contact with the persons at Bankura. We were told that there was cloud but no rain. Any way , we found less-intensity of rain at Durgapur. The crisis is about over there.
We breathed with anew energy. Dr. Moloy Majhi accompanied us from there. He was delighted to meet his teacher- Prof. Jitesh Hore & Prof. Dipak Ghosh. We halted at his farm sometime. He has transformed the outlook of farm with his continuous devotion and monitoring. Again I saw the turmeric field. It was so green and vigour that i could not shut down my eyes. We also visited the plot where rhizomes given by Dipak were planted. Thereafter I looked at the guava & mango orchards. These have been weeded out and cleaned. I understand a model farm is coming up in Bankura. Dr.Majhi has seeded elephant foot crops. These were nice. I recollect my attempts at Chhatna & Amarkanan four years back. We also got tremendous results. I also documented success story as well as pictures of Elephant Foot crops . These are still in net. I had the notion that this will be a possible cash crop under rainfed in Bankura district. The matter is of quality seed and extension service. Other issues are also there but those could be overcome. Very recently I visited Amarkannan Ashram. Maharaji showed me ol-plants standing at the campus. With sipping a a cup of tea we started towards Bankura.
This time it was sunny. There was no alarming from rain-God. Thanks to the almighty we reached in time at the venue. Venue was selected at the Minority Community Hall . Swaraj & Sanjib-the duo- volunteers made the situation ready to start. In the mean time I was counting the members representing. My eyes went to Golapi savar & Shanti Savar. I came to them and asked “ do you remember”? –“ yea” replied.
I was enquiring about the mango orchards , turmeric –production etc. etc. Golapi & Shanti have a self-help group named Ladda Savar Para Mahila Indira Group. They have twelve members. With the support of MGNREGA they set up a mango orchard. Two or three years back I accompanied by Dr.Dipak Ghosh visited it. I got a positive hope there. The trees were yet to give fruits that time. Now to my query they said “ We are happy with the orchards. We harvested mangoes”. They know that their mangoes are in high demand in Khatra, Bankura. They also know that their mangoes reached Kolkata and New Delhi. I enjoyed when Golapi mentioned that she attended New Delhi and received prizes from the government for their quality mango and endeavours. It is a heart touching moment to hear from them for their reorganization. Who will distinguish them as Savars unless said by some one. Their appearance, dress. Etiquette every thing has been changed. They are now self-conscious . Their voice is not now passive rather aggressive. Dr. Babulal Mahato contributed a lot. Babulal not only brought economic changes for them but lifted their social status. We are concerned with the livelihood of Savars. We read about their poverty, misery and health hazards. Their pitiable stories come up frequently in news papers or media . However, the positive stories are overlooked. I salute to Babulal and his team mates for doing social justice to these down trodden people.
I came to know Savar groups prefer to plant turmeric as it could be raised under rainfed or using a little water. Moreover, these nomadic clans have grown vegetables as intercrop. They want to seed garlic. I asked them if they are trained to seed other spices. They showed interest on methi. By the by Golapi informed me that individual member received Rs 7000 .00 from the sale of mangoes. They also have been receiving a regular income from vegetables.
“ What are changes after setting up orchards”?- I asked them
-“ we are in better position. Earlier we had to work as wage earners. We used to serve as daily labours in others’ field. We had to migrate east(pube) in Burdwan. Now we work in our orchards. We get jobs under 100 –day employment project. We also engage ourselves in vegetale cultivation. “- They are happy. I also felt joy on hearing their words. I got a voice recorder gifted by my daughter. I am lucky that I recorded Savar’s confidence & powerful attitudes to hear and share frequently.
Next I turn to a group of young guys whom I did not see earlier. I was introduced by Swaraj they are from Arra ; Chhatna and belong to Sidhu-Kanu self help groups. Paritosh Saren was smart and fluent in dialogue.” What have motivated you to grow turmeric”?-i asked
-“ we have tar(up lands) where nothing could be done. We planted turmeric ther”- he replied.
-“how many of you seeded turmeric”
-“ thirty members this year. Next year more will do”
-“I have 10 kathas of land. In earlier i used to grow paddy. For the last few years I could not owing to water scarcity. The land was filled with grass & trees. I planted there clearing grasses”
The same answers i was receiving. Fallow lands, uplands have been devoted to turmeric.Again I was informed by Saren that they grew turmeric in a sporadic manner earlier. This time they have been cultivating in a wide scale. I also knew they know the processing and they make turmeric-powder using traditional Dheki.
Thereafter, I met Lalmohan Pal & Bari Kanta Mondal coming from Saltora. This is the second time they are growing turmeric. Bari kanta has planted 3 bighas of up-lands under turmeric. He is satisfied with the growth of plants. He is interested to introduce spices requiring less water.
I renewed my friendship with the members of Raibandh. Sanjib Goswami brought members from his organization: Raibandh Palli Unnayan Samiti, Bankura-ii. Shantimoy Rana is trusted lieutenant, ShantiMoy is now a well known personality in turmeric circle. He produced 25 qtls from 15 katha of land. His story has been published in news paper. He is now a successful turmeric entrepreneur. He always encourages this crop in the rain-fed areas. Today he shared his experience with the participants and the guests.
I was delighted to see Laximdar and his team members of the farmers’ club. I have visited Gurputa a few days back. They have been doing good in turmeric practices.
I got much pleasure to share with other members. Finally I met the SHGs of Gouripur. They are socially outcast people. They are cured lepers but rejected by families and society. They are staying in a colony adjacent to the Hospital. This year they have set up orchards with succour from MGNEREGA. Dr. Babula Mahato took a noble initiatives to rehabilitate those deprived members. They are interested to grow turmeric as well as spices. I was delighted to see them.
I see hope for Turmeric & other Spices specific to the environment of Bankura.

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