A PACS Programme partner in Rajnagar block in Chhattarpur district, Madhya Pradesh, has successfully converged its programme project with the World Bank-supported Madhya Pradesh District Poverty Initiative Programme (MPDPIP).
MPDPIP is a large poverty-alleviation programme, started in 2000, that now covers over 3,200 selected villages in 14 districts of Madhya Pradesh.
The programme works with the poorest in selected villages, after conducting a wealth ranking and taking the villagers into confidence. In some villages, MPDPIP implements the programme directly, whilst in other areas CSOs designated as Project Facilitation Teams (PFTs) are in charge of implementation.
PACS Programme CSOs Action for Social Advancement (ASA) and Bundelkhand Vikas Samiti (BVS) are currently working as MPDPIP PFTs.
One of the main thrust areas of MPDPIP is forming self-help groups known as Common Interest Groups (CIGs) to help members hone their traditional skills, like bamboo work, or take up goat-rearing, piggery and other small business activities.
If a CIG holds regular meetings and its members save and inter-loan regularly, it is eligible for a grant under MPDPIP to start a business activity. The CIG has to raise 15% of the total amount needed; MPDPIP provides the rest. The programme also gives grants to entire villages as an entry-point activity.
For the past five years, Darshna Mahila Kalyan Samiti (DMKS), a network partner of the BVS, has been the mobilisation support organisation for MPDPIP in Rajnagar block, and has helped set up 795 CIGs in the block.
MPDPIP-DMKS supervisor Rajesh K Gupta says their work under the programme, especially well reconstruction and digging new wells has been appreciated by the community. “With the MPDPIP grant, people were able to opt for diesel pumps and threshers,” he says.
Speaking about the process of selection of beneficiaries, Gupta explains that when the wealth ranking was done in the village and activities identified “we tried to ensure that we connected landowners with agricultural activities and those who had skills, with traditional crafts”.
If people have neither skills nor land, grants were given to them to start small businesses.
However, the going has not always been easy.
Gupta recalls that when they began work in the three villages of Parapurwa, Bhiyantal and Dhoogaw in Rajnagar block, people were not aware of any government schemes, or even the livelihood potential of their assets.
“We found that if somebody had livestock, especially cattle, he would just leave the cow in the jungle and be satisfied with the one litre of milk that the cow gave. People did not take up activities with a sense of doing business. They had no idea that they should stall-feed cattle, that they could have a better living for themselves and their families,” he says.
MPDPIP’s entry point in Parapurwa village, 13 km from Khajuraho, was through cement, concrete and road construction. Then DMKS started forming CIGs and today there are 22 such groups in the village.
As the groups’ regular meetings and inter-loaning activities continued, DMKS introduced the concept of a Village Development Committee (VDC).
Under MPDPIP, each village has to have one VDC comprising a member from each of the CIGs in the village. The VDC member is selected by the CIGs.
The VDC is supposed to work for the overall development of the village. Its responsibilities include monitoring the public distribution system, the functioning of schools and the midday meal scheme, and intervening in cases of domestic violence.
The VDC is also supposed to take up microfinance — all the CIGs in a village contribute a percentage of their savings to the VDC; MPDPIP gives up to 95% of the grant for VDC-planned activities.
To get the concept moving in its project villages, DMKS convened a meeting of all CIGs and told them that VDCs were going to be set up — the one condition was that only women would be allowed as members. “We felt that women would be able to handle microfinance issues better,” Gupta explains.
DMKS struggled for about a year to get the VDCs functional. A handful of village resource persons formed groups in 16 villages to help CIGs meet MPDPIP norms. Each village resource person had three villages to look after. The village resource persons had the task of training CIGs in how to form VDCs, how to start microfinance activities, etc. “Just getting all the activities done on time proved difficult,” says Gupta.
At VDC meetings that were held once a month, the village resource persons were pressed to keep track of all related developments. They soon realised that most of the women who had been selected for the VDC had not been told about their role and responsibilities. And so it was difficult to mobilise and orient the women towards the VDC’s goals.
For instance, Basanti Bai, a widow with seven children, says her CIG members chose her for the VDC only because others in the group were younger and people thought that she would be active and would do a good job.
Gupta says: “DMKS was also faced with another reality. We were unable to get people in the villages who had passed Class VIII to become village resource persons. Also, some resource persons were unable to hold meetings in a comprehensive manner, and this led to communication gaps among people.”
Just when DMKS was going through this challenging period it got a new lease of life. With the PACS Programme project coming through in July 2006, the organisation was able to draw in additional staff as village resource persons.
With the help of the additional staff, CIGs could be trained on how to form and run federations, align activities in the village with government schemes, and keep their documentation up-to-date. The VDC in Parapurwa has already come up with a proposal to set up a sewing unit.
Under the PACS Programme many of the women were encouraged to go on exposure trips and undergo training at Development Alternatives’ Taragram facility in Orchha. The work of village resource persons has become more systematic, with the number of field staff for the job increasing from just three people to eight. This also helped DMKS start intensive work in 20 villages.
Says Shakuntala, president of the CIG Parapurwa that has embarked on a ‘tent house’ business (hiring pandals and related equipment for marriages and public functions): “Earlier, the VDC used to meet only once a month. In six months, people were unable to understand what the VDC was all about. In fact, people were suspicious that we were siphoning funds.”
As a result, many meetings were reduced to exchanges of allegations and counter allegations. Since not all VDC members were able to make it to the meetings, the group was unable to function as a cohesive unit.
Since October 2006, however, VDC meetings have been held regularly twice a month, and through training and exposure people have been made aware of their rights. They were informed about the right to information, right to work, and right to food. Women began to discuss problems like the fact that many people in the village did not have NREGS job cards.
The VDC in Parapurwa has been able to raise awareness among people in the village about applications for NREGS job cards. They have successfully campaigned for work for the villagers and have put pressure on the village sarpanch and secretary to pay NREGS money by taking the issue up with the block office.
In this way, the PACS Programme has helped strengthen the work of DMKS and, more importantly, added value to MPDPIP’s livelihood-focused poverty-alleviation efforts.
This story is based on inputs provided by Write Solutions, the PACS Programme’s communications agency for MP and Chhattisgarh.