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Accentuating the Social Divide

Dalit and tribal families in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, whose villages will be affected by the Polavaram dam project, face a peculiar problem. On receiving compensation for land given to the project, the non-tribal landlords have stopped cultivation, and work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has been terminated because the land will shortly be submerged. Even for the contracts completed under the NREGS, there are discrepancies in the amount of work done and the wages the villagers have received.

COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW January 31, 200917R Uma Maheshwari (umamaheshwari_1999@yahoo.com) is National Foundation for India Media Fellow 2008-09. Work for this article was supported by the fellowship.Accentuating the Social DivideR Uma MaheshwariDalit and tribal families in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, whose villages will be affected by the Polavaram dam project, face a peculiar problem. On receiving compensation for land given to the project, the non-tribal landlords have stopped cultivation, and work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has been terminated because the land will shortly be submerged. Even for the contracts completed under the NREGS, there are discrepancies in the amount of work done and the wages the villagers have received.Muchika Rajamma and her daugh-ter-in-law Lakchamma, landless Koyas of Chegondapally village (Polavaram mandal, West Godavari dis-trict in Andhra Pradesh), approached the new employment programme in their village with great enthusiasm. A new 100-day work on a defunct check dam in their village was to begin. But within 10 days, theirenthusiasm turned to sheer frustra-tion.Rajamma says, “We did what we were told to do – dig up the soil. We worked for 10 days and at the end of the tenth day, got only Rs 300.” After a few days, however, the officials decided that works here should be stopped. All this happened in June 2008.The villagers, including Rajamma, had gathered at the Ramalayam/Rama temple to discuss the upadhi haami pathakam/vandal dinaala pani (the National Rural Employ-ment Guarantee Scheme-NREGS). Inciden-tally, ever since the Polavaram dam became the central issue for this village, the deity here has been witness to some of the most heated arguments about the project’s effect on the villagers. “I got Rs 200. I worked for seven days”, says Midiyam Saramma. “The gumasta (field assistant) told us they were ordered to stop the works since there is not enough money for it in this village. They told us not to come anymore.” They were fortu-nate that their village got at least 10 days worth of work. Pydipaka in the same mandal is a different story altogether. The computerised list of the NREGs programme in the mandal development officer’s (MDO) office at Polavaram shows “No work” against the Pydipaka village. Suresh, the computer operator, informs me, “it is going to be submerged; it was dif-ficult to convince the collector to get works done here.” According to the records for Pydipaka, 349 job cards were issued for 729 wage seekers (men – 384; women – 345), of which the scheduled castes (SCs) have 154 cards; scheduled tribes (STs) – 2; backward classes (BCs) – 159 and; others 54.Andu Peddaraju of Pydipaka says, The Assistant Project Officer (APO) Y Srinivas told us, “you are all going to leave, your village is going to drown; why do you need work?”. They gave us job cards but no work. We staged a dharna at the MDO’s office in Polavaram. The revenue divisional officer (RDO) and the project officer assured us they will solve our problems. But till date nobody has come. We have no land, no jobs. No SC here owns land. We used to work as labourers in the fields. Now we are just idle. Some of the villagers go to Jangareddygudem and Buttaigudem for work.It seems as if even an act that is sup-posed to guarantee livelihood to the poor, especially the socially excluded, stands no chance before the concept of “public good”. In the case of Chegondapally and Pydipaka, specifically, the Polavaram dam takes priority over guarantee of live-lihoods even before it is built. Polavaram mandal – the site of the spillway of the Polavaram dam – has shown perhaps the most pathetic record of NREGS program-mes by far. The East and West Godavari districts were among the newer districts to get the NREGs in April 2008. In Chegondapally, as in other villages in Polavaram, it was barely two months after 10%. The “Index of Infrastructure” and the “Poverty Ratio” need to be revived/modified to effectively address the issue of equity, especially as interstate disparity in growth has worsened during the post- reform period.ReferencesDas, Keshab (1993): “Planning and Regional Differen-tiation in India: Strategies and Practices”, Journal of Indian School of Political Economy, 5 (4).– (1997): “Politics of Industrial Location: Indian Federalism and Development Decisions”,Eco-nomic & Political Weekly, 32 (51). – (2007): “States Are Being Seriously Shortchanged Now”, Debate on “Should Royalties of Minerals Be Determined by the Centre or by the States Themselves?”,TheFinancial Express, New Delhi, 22 January. – (2008): “Orissa’s Memorandum to the Thirteenth Finance Commission: A Brief Contribution”, Paper presented at the State Level Seminar on State’s Memorandum to the Thirteenth Finance Com-mission, organised by the Finance Department, Government of Orissa and held at Swosti Plaza, Bhubaneswar, 17 October 2008 (mimeo, unpublished).Lenka, Jagannath and Minati Mallick (2008): “Finance Commission Awards: Horizontal Equityvs Regional Disparity” in R Sudarsana Rao (ed.), Issues and Recommendations of TwelfthFinance Commission (New Delhi: Serials Publications). 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COMMENTARYJanuary 31, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly18theNREGs works started that the collector (West Godavari) decided to call a halt in anticipation of the monsoons. However, the rain played truant and started only by late August. TheNREGs in Polavaram mandal started in April 2008 on paper. In Chegondapally it had stopped by early June. B Peramma (SC, Pydipaka), whose husband died a few years ago, has a child to fend for. Her home is in a shambles, and she cannot afford to repair it. The work she did as an agricultural labourer on the non-tribal farmers’ fields is no longer available. Even the NREGs scheme did not take off. She cannot work too far from the village on account of her child. She says, “They keep saying we will be moved from here. There is no work, no money.” Pydipaka exemplifies all the ill-effects of an unjust social hierarchy, oppression and history of land tenure in the Godavari dis-tricts. The Polavaram project only accentu-ated the economic and social divide.Today you can see a rich family – usually belonging to the upper caste, and non-tribal – in the same village as an absolutely penniless Mala or Madiga family. All the compensation for land (at the rate of around Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,50,000 per acre) has gone to the non-tribal landowners. People joke about this compensation pack-age that has turned some families into crorepatis overnight. The dalits here have slipped back to where they originally were in the socio-economic hierarchy before independence. After receiving compensa-tion for their lands, the non-tribal landlords (small, medium and big farmers) of Pydipaka simply stopped cultivation. The effect of this is loss of livelihood for the dal-its who worked as agricultural labourers here. The rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) package which was supposed to compensate them in terms of wages for 100 work days has not reached a single villager. The only hope for them was the NREGs pro-gramme which was not “given” to this vil-lage because in effect this is a “submerged area.” So the authorities did not wish to “waste” money on this village.Jadla Mary of this village says, We are dying of hunger; and these bombs (dynamites from the spillway site close to their village) have made it a living hell for us. Nobody cares for us. People like you come here and go, but our situation remains the same – no food, no work. The other day the circle inspector (CI) Rajkumar said they will put us in jail if we question too much because we went to the MDO. AsSCs we have nothing from the Polavaram R&R package either; now they are denying us the 100-days’ work as well. Since all the land has now been acquired by the government, which has in turn leased out portions to contractors working on the Polavaram dam, the offi-cials say how can they get works initiated on government land, virtually “owned” by contractors? Of course, the officials explain it differently. TheAPO points out,Pydipaka falls in (an) immediately sub-merged area. We have to show asset creation in theNREGs works. How can we do that here? It will all go to waste. We have shown works for other submerged areas but Pydipa-ka’s case is different. All the farmers have given away their lands to the government and we cannot create assets there anymore. Yet we have offered them work in another panchayat. We can give them work within five kms. We showed them the place and they (theSCs) said they would go later. We also offered them work in Polavaram…Many in Pydipaka, like Chittumalu Sitamma and her husband Chinnaseeni do not even have job cards. Another villager Peddaraju says, “We are all in deep distress. For generations we lived here, and worked on the fields of the big rythus (non-tribal farmers). The Godavari also fed us.”For the dalits here the Godavari in spate does not spell disaster, it means livelihood. When the river flooded they would float along it holding on to their teppalu (wooden rafts), collecting the logs uprooted all along her course. In 2006 the Godavari flooded and helped many of them to sell logs for anywhere between Rs 150 and Rs 1,500. But this time round, says Peddaraju, “even the Godavari had no pity on us”. Pushed to the BrinkHe also points out that the dynamite blasts carried out at the spillway site everyday cause more problems for the jobless, hungry villagers who find their houses have developed cracks due to the blasts. It is as if the government wants the dalits to disappear from the scene.In Chegondapally, the Koyas have been protesting against the Polavaram project and at least five of them have been charged withsedition.Itdoes not come as a surprise then that the NREGs did not truly take off in these villages. One of the villagers here Koyesi Rama-salaimma says, TheMDO said that the work we have done (at the check dam) was inadequate. The officials would say that the way we dug the earth was not good enough; or that we did not remove enough soil; that it did not add up to a metre in depth and so they would not pay. I worked for nine days and got Rs 400! Three of us in my family went to work, but only I got my wages. They say we are not interested in working, Can you believe that landless agri-cultural labourers like us would shirk work?.Midiyam Saramma adds, “They started some bunding works after the check dam work was stopped. We worked for six or seven days but got no wanges. The APO says we have not done the volume of work we were asked to do so we won’t be paid.”TheAPO has another version to relate. He says, We paid them according to measurements. For a metre of soil dug (height, depth-wise) we give Rs 54. Some people think that like other food for work programmes they can just give attendance and get Rs 80. Even when they do not fulfil measurements, we have instances where we have paid Rs 30 and 40. At the same time some of the work-ers have received Rs 100 for a day’s work. There were other discrepancies regard-ing the NREGs work. For instance, in Pola-varam mandal wages were paid through the village officer and not through the post offices. No accounts were created for the job card holders here because the authorities felt that since the works started in April, opening an account in the post office would mean delay in pay-ments. So money was given through the village office.The villagers want to know why the NREGs field assistant is being paid when no works are being undertaken. Even in terms of overall figures, the NREGs programme in Polavaram mandal is quite pathetic. For instance, only two households in the entire mandal got 100 (“completed”) days of work! For 19,419 wage seekers (in 15 pan-chayats), only 10,415 job cards were issued. The value of the 148 works sanctioned was Rs 3,14,76,824 while only 10 were com-pleted. In Chegondapally, 387 job cards were issued for 828 wage seekers. The dalits of Pydipaka and the Koyas of Chegondapally find themselves pushed back into the very vortex the freedom movement sought to break.

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