Sunday, December 29, 2013

Visit for Social Audit of NREGS - 2

What is a social audit? It is better to have an idea of the concept in the first place. Social_Audit_Report is uploaded in the NREGS website. But almost all of the community seems to be completely unaware of documentation part. Best part of these meetings is the opportunity to meet office bearers and government officials on same day.

When government makes schedule for social audit in October, it reviews work done/in progress from April to September months. SA was originally scheduled in October but due to cyclone, it was completed in December. Advertisements were given in three Oriya newspaper giving dates and location of the social audit meeting. Local NGO was invited to attend the meetings but no provision of fund was available for community mobilisation through local NGO. This was all done when Gram Rozgar Sevak (GRS) [working personnels for NREGS at Village level] were gone on strike. Their online petition is worth a read on the problem faced at implementation level.

Verification of Documents, Grievance Submitted and Issues Raised were tackled in the meeting with sincerity. Whatever issues were raised and action was taken on them.  Normal complain was wrong account number given by beneficiaries of bank accounts. One person complained having no job card. He later told that he was migrant and belong to well to do family. Since, this card is one more government paperwork done free, he was eager to get in hope of anticipated benefits. Ensuring faster wage payment to beneficiaries under MGNREGS is the process lacuna. Payment within 15 days deadline is sometime stretched to full month that came in limelight.

According to the guidelines of MGNREGA, a Gram Sabha is held the prime institution of planning and execution of MGNREGA. So much in writing but activities of Vigilance and Monitoring Committees (VMCs) at Panchayat level is in hibernation all over Odisha. NREGS work for purposes like common grazing and livelihood are not taken much in thought. NREGS website is great. But even the BPL (as per 1997 census in Odisha) doesn't seem rightly feeded in that. I have highlighted with red circle in the picture above and brought to the notice of concerned authority.

There is no convergence that household has taken benefit from which scheme like IAY/RSBY of the government.  Even demand generation suffers due to lack of initiative of community. As per government official, not much work can be generated if a lot has been already done in previous years. There is a limit of demand that can be achieved under guidelines of NREGS. The demand scheme has been converted into target scheme by the officers under pressure from the government to show numbers.  That was the most important lesson came out in this exercise.

 Social Audit has merely reduced as excercise for checking numbers, as rarely people complained about quality of work and let accountable pay for corruption. Even mighty monitoring tool like social audit can become grievance redress mechanism only in the hands of dull community. Social audit may have helped in awareness generation but a lot of work need to be done for community engagement.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

One Month at Bhanjanagar, Ganjam

I reported at DRDA office, Ganjam district on 18th November 2013. I was relived from previous duty for PHAILIN rehabilitation work. Emergency relief work had already been finished in most of the block. Hence, rehabilitation work is not included in my role at Ganjam District. I was assigned to work at Bhanjanagar block exclusive for Odisha Livelihood Mission (OLM).  Bhanjanagar block is a non intensive block as per OLM guidelines. A new proposal to change this into intensive block has been sent to the central government. That means a lot of action under coming months but not now. Revolving fund to SHGs, e-NRLM (MIS)and SHG Bank Credit Linkage are the focus area  in job profile.
OLM  , Panchayat Samiti Office, Bhanjanagar
Work Station
Every person worth its salt always knows how to correct itself, and eventually does. I feel vulnerable against myself. The trait of punctuality is leaving me even with the minor load of the government job. Hoping to maintain this habit of punctuality. I am ignorant about development issues to a large extent. I am focusing hard to be updated on each aspect of community and governance development. It a general truth that "No work, No Pay". Currently, assigned work is minimum at this moment. Let's have a thought, I feel like overpaid government officer !

Motivation for the Day: “If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don't even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery--isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you'll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you're going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is.” ― Charles Bukowski, Factotum

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

More Words, Less Work

Jargon is not monopoly of B School students, as they are also used excessively in the development sector. That is why practitioner doesn't read academic literature. The funny part is that the jargon such as 'Sustainable' and 'Strategy' in daily vocab as student is not coming any use to me. Development academics are known for their penchant for creating jargon where there is need for none, points out Pulitzer-Prize and Oscar-winning cartoonist and novelist Jules Feitter in his inimitable style.

“I used to think I was poor. Then they told me I wasn’t poor, I was needy. Then they said needy was an expression that is self defeating, I was actually deprived. Then again they said deprived created a bad image, I was actually underprivileged. Now they say underprivileged is inaccurate. I am actually disadvantaged. I still don’t have a dime, but I sure have a rich vocabulary!” – Jules Feitter

Monday, December 2, 2013

Producer Groups - Practical Experiences

"I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."- Richard Feynman ; That is why, despite of knowing theoretical concept on the Producer Groups, there were some practical lessons gained in the field. I had worked with Producer Groups  farming Groundnut, Onion, & Pulses (even one group was doing business of NTFP) at Balanagir district, Odisha. I was guided under able supervision of Kamalendu Paul, Zonal Manager, ORMAS (Orissa Rural Development and Marketing Society). The document Community Enterprise System Manual prepared by Prof. Amar KJR Nayak came helpful during work.

All producer groups were having women members only. No producer group has been registered under any act till now. However, credit was given to them on the basis of mutual trust between government and Producer Groups. The legal process will be initiated soon. We were also unable to do protect farmers under crop insurance scheme till this year. Organizing the unorganized was already done by Paul Sir before my arrival at district. Without help of local persons, this was not possible. The sign of government (even its vehicle) is a sign of trust in rural areas. That fast paced our work even by Indian standards in establishing trust with the community. Our companies have usually dump their sub standard products and Chit Fund company had run away with the money of rural people. This historical tendency of companies have made the business in rural areas difficult.

Practical Experiences:

1) 40-60 is the optimal size of the group. It is necessary for cohesion within and management of the group. Since, they are small scale, it is generally preferred that they are not much dispersed. There is an executive committee and further sub committees in the Producer group. But, most of the members don't know the power, roles and responsibilities of these committee. Since, NRLM is a new scheme, we have to remind each time about objective and scope of mission to the members.

2) Producer group were more successful in the remote areas of the district. The sense of cooperation is more seen at these regions in comparison to the relative rich parts of the district. It is a small sample for me to draw conclusions but poor are more honest and cooperative in the nature.

3) For any business, 'budget' is the ultimate tool with which to monitor and keep an eye over the business. The lack of education becomes major hindrance in the preparation of annual action plan and budget. It was easy to make them understand about procurement procedures (like inviting more than one quotations) and necessity of documentation. Since, most of the women are part of SHG, they have a basic idea about documenting the meetings and cash book.

4) LSP (Livelihood Support Person) is appointed for their help in marketing linkages and proper documentation. Producer Group is more considered for good price while government is more strict on documentation part. Honorarium of LSP is merely 2000 -3000 rs currently. That may appear low but as per my opinion, is sufficient if billed on RS 50 per hour of interaction. Work of LSP is maximum during post harvesting season.

5) I have attained lectures, read articles and even studies courses on the leadership. Cooperative Leadership is not just about good communication skills, democracy – its about sound decision making by utilizing capacity of the group. Producer group like any other group is leader oriented. The trivia is that an exterior person like LSP should enable but should never drive the Producer Group strategy. Since, I have been working women producers and male LSP, this scenario may occur in future. A leader should be groomed inside the group. Even on the proxy of gender diversity, there was only single women among all appointed LSPs.

6) Another difficulty that the producer group or cooperative societies encounter relates to storage facilities. Most of the surplus produce in an area is assembled and sold at the mandi. Infrastructure support is must for the producer group. Most of the farmers even if organized for the production purpose are reluctant to store for a long time to meet their immediate consumptive need. Low cost storage facility for multipurpose use at each GP/ village for each producer group is a good solution to the problem. It may appear cheap and effective under Panchayat but the chances of either personal usage by PRI members or no maintenance are more in it.

7) The transport arrangement to market small volume of produce is not facilitating and rural transport cost is much higher than the urban transport cost. Hence, with combining the total produce, we were able to bring businessman on doorstep of farmers.

8) Line departments like Agriculture Department and its extension services support has been minimal till now. Convergence is always missing in-between government departments! We are hoping for their help during training session of producers. The fund supplied for training purpose by government will be used in future. The caveat of guidelines in utilizing training fund: Only half of the group will get the training. A sure way of creating rift between members. It is better to spend less on training per member but to impart training to everyone in the group.

9) There was not much inclusion of banks till now. Without any corpus fund provided as grant, it was difficult even for a bank to provide them loan amount. And, Banks heavily discourage and delay SHG/PG  members making transactions to the respective branches. That is a big issue with multiple perspective to be debated later.

10) Agri Produce Market is not very quality conscious, but price sensitive to a certain extent. The credit supplied to PG is used for holding the collective produce for the one or two month. In the mean time, there is definite rise in prices of produce. We have experience of selling Pulses for profit of more than Rs 10 per kg by holding stick for a period of one month.

Failure of Cooperative societies should never be forgotten in Indian context while pitching support for such groups. Cooperative societies were not harmed much by politics but by interference of the bureaucracy. Lack of serious attention to value added agriculture and rural MSMEs are big task to be handled in the future. How do we make agriculture sustainable and economically viable ? That is the big question.

Initiative Taken:

- Previously, only office bearers and LSP words were taken for granted in meeting at district level meeting. Producer Group registers were only way of checking regular meetings and updates during field visits. I have collected maximum available mobile phone numbers of members. Hence, I can actually monitor live, whether PG meeting is happening or not from district headquarter through random calls to any member.

- A DPR (Detailed Project Report)was approved by OLM (Odisha Livelihood Mission) last year. There was no provision of baseline survey. I tried to capture data about household socio-economic conditions so that impact assessment can be made in coming years.

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This Blog is meant purely as a personal diary of a rural manager in making. It exists to record information, experiences and opinions about various issues encountered in the line of duty. Any person, institution and organization mentioned here doesn't assume any liability for its contents. This is not a deliberate attempt to defame anyone. And if you have actually read all that is written in the blog and aren't mad at me, then thanks for your time and patience !
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