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Invisible Injustices-4.

India, Oct. 19 -- Aged women in scanty clothes sat listlessly in the shade of their huts. Younger women engaged in all kinds of household chores. The men sat in groups under the shade of trees and chatted. Naked children played around merrily. Skinny and bony cows and bullocks stood tethered in the filthy and makeshift sheds. Dirty potbellied pigs were squealing around and few chicks frantically scratching in the filth and squalor which seem to be the only wealth of the place.

The houses, rather one should say huts, are single room, low roofed, grass thatched mud walled: kitchen, bedroom, sitting room and storeroom, all-in-one huddle. There were twenty six huts stood in two rows: almost parallel.

This is a brief description of a tribal village in Orissa which I visited to see the much lauded social forestry programme of that village implemented under the auspices of a highly motivated voluntary agency. The agency has been conscientizing the villagers politically and socially for ten years. Economically they are at the rock bottom: landless shifting cultivators. They slash and burn forests and practice mixed cropping which requires hard work of nine to ten months but hardly get three months food. Hence along with shifting cultivation they go for selling of fire wood and minor forest produce or for casual labour. They are exploited by the forest officials, marketing and labour contractors.

After ten years of conscientization over the hungry stomachs, sick bodies and illiterate minds the voluntary agency decided that the village should have some land of its own. The illiterates crave for land.

Therefore, the voluntary agency mobilized them and made them occupy 35 acres of good, sufficiently levelled forest land. The agency managed to make them realize the value of a community land and community income generating enterprises. It tried to inject the idea of cooperation in village community building into the minds of the people in all their meetings with people. As the meetings were held in 'the night and as they were dead tired, from a day long hard work, and hungry they nodded their heads to everything what was being discussed. The voluntary agency itself drew up a plan for the 35 acre land.

The plan was to establish social forestry on the 35 acres of land. "What do you like to plant?" asked the representative of voluntary agency who conducted the meeting. "What shall we plant?" few of the villagers repeated the question. The representative again came to their rescue; we shall plant cashew trees, bananas and pineapple and few sapota trees. The people nodded their heads again. So the decision was unanimous. Some of the people must have imagined themselves savoring luscious, yellow, ripe banana fruits; while others wondered what these "pine apple and sapota trees". Their burning stomach craved for the fruits of these trees: no matter what they looked or tasted like.

It should be noted here that the social forestry which the agency planned actually was an orchard. It did not know the difference between the social forestry and orchard. Further it did not know how to set up an orchard or social forestry, how to plant and take care of fruit trees. They thought, as was confirmed during my visit, that they knew everything. "What is there to learn about planting and caring of fruit trees," casually expressed one of them during my discussion with them.

The villagers being motivated by the agency cleared the land, made a loose rock wall all around the land. Nearly hundred people from the village including women swung into action and put up a hard work of nearly four months. Thousands of stones were collected and placed one above the other balancing to form a lose-rock wall around the property. Tender hands bled against the sharp edges of the rocks. But the thought of imminent fruits made them not to mind losing few drops of blood.

Altogether they planted five thousand cashew trees and two thousand each bananas and pineapples along with a dozen sapota trees. "Are they planting properly?" doubted one of the supervisors from the voluntary agency. "Yes, yes, they have been planting all kinds of crops in their life," quick came the confident answer from another supervisor. When the planting was over there was great rejoicing in the village. They sang and danced with their burning stomachs. The supervisors consoled them saying, "Soon you will have your bellies full, then you can sing and dance better".

The people were supposed to look after the plants. They were ready to do anything. A team of young people from the village was entrusted to look after the saplings. Almost every day they visited the plot. Slowly plants began dying one after another. Nobody could explain why. One old man from the village advised the team that the plants require water. The voluntary agency was called in to discuss the problem. In the meeting they decided to have a well close to the plot and fix a diesel pump to water the plants. They dug a huge well and spent about Rs. 50,000; because it yielded no water. There was a very small perennial stream about 150 ft. away from the plot. All that needed was to make a collection pit at the edge of the stream from which' water can be pumped up. By the time the empty well was over most of the saplings died. The dreams of every one vanished into thin air. By the time I visited the plot, almost all the bananas, pineapples, sapotas and cashews were dead. The land looked like a burial ground. I knelt down near few plants to examine them closely. It was clear that all the plants died because they were not planted and looked after properly. The saplings were planted at random into very small pits. Cashew, banana and pineapple were planted without considering their canopy size, life span and their specific care needed in planting and caring. To cut the story short: the social forestry was implemented without any knowledge about it. The voluntary agency thought that the people knew everything about planting and caring of trees and plants. There were others who cautioned the voluntary agency at the beginning of the programme, about the need for training in social forestry. "The villagers are farmers. They were doing farming all their life. What is there to train them?" A supervisor jeered at them. It was an act of great injustice that voluntary agency implemented social forestry programme with a sense of knowing everything and not following even a rough calculation of the cost of labour and other inputs which amounts to 2,50,000 rupees. If these saplings were planted and cared properly the following will be the expected income.

2,500 bananas will yield a minimum of 2300 bunches and sold at Rs.50 per bunch will fetch Rs 1,15,000. Similarly 2,500 pineapple plants will yield at least 2,400 pineapple which can fetch Rs. 2,40,000. The yield from the bananas and pineapple can last for five years and the total a income could be 3,55,000 x 5 = 17,75,000.

Till five years the cashew plants require care. From fifth year onwards cashews start yielding. The investment in terms of labour by villagers for the a maintenance of cashew, bananas and pineapple would hardly come to 5,00,000. In other words a net income of Rs. 12,75,000 lakh could have been obtained by the twenty six families during the first five years.

From five to ten years the average yield of cashew is estimated to be 5 kg per tree per year. Then the income from 4750 cashew trees (with 5% mortality) @ Rs 20 per kg nuts is Rs. 23,75,000.

From ten year onwards the yield nut will be on an average of 20 kg per year for the next 20 years. (Average yield of a good cashew tree ranges from 20-30 kg/tree per year). The average price during these years is estimated Rs.30 per kg. The survival rate of trees after 10 year is estimated 95 per cent. Hence the income from 4,512 cashew trees from 10 to 30 years is estimated to be Rs 541,44,000 while the expenditure will be around Rs 1,50,000 per year and the expected net income for 20 years will be 511,44,000. The total net income would have been nearly 548 lakh during the 30 year period for 26 families.

If we calculate the compound interest of the annual income from this plantation the loss would be still greater if not phenomenal for the villagers. This would have been a real liberation for the villagers: economically, socially and political. The greatest loss however is that the people lost their confidence. Their great enthusiasm and expectations were turned into frustrations. This demoralization cannot be accounted in terms of money. At the end of the ten years of awareness building and the two years of social forestry programme turned out to be one of the greatest economic and social disasters with injustices galore: INJUSTICES INVISIBLE. The scene described in the beginning of this article is only a glimpse of actual situation. Ten years of fighting for justice ended with injustices. All because the voluntary agency never cared to learn about technical aspect of social forestry or orchard plantation. Many are such instances in the social action fields.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indian Currents.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Date:Oct 19, 2015
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