ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Foreground Local Contexts

Foreground Local Contexts

The critique on the MGNREGA in the context of Biodiversity Conservation (Mathew K Sebastian and P A Azeez, “MGNREGA and Biodiversity Conservation”, EPW, 8 March 2014) points to two critical issues that pervade all the “development” or “poverty alleviation” programmes in India – one, relevance to context and two, the absence of decentralised and localised elements in the design of the programme. Programmes under the MGNREGA or the Integrated Watershed Management Programme in semi-arid, rain-fed areas have an intent that is commendable but their scope does not have adequate flexibility to make it contextual. As a result it becomes more of a burden when not implemented with some common sense. Biodiversity is the basis for rural life and livelihoods. Destruction of this biodiversity along the lines cited in the article or by randomly clearing common lands in semi-arid areas and planting fruit trees that are non-native and require water and maintenance creates a vicious cycle of dependence rather than promoting livelihoods.

I draw from an example in the semi-arid region of Rayalaseema. A goatherd/shepherd community I work with wanted to protect grazing lands, which are spread across revenue hillocks, from seasonal fires. Since fireline cutting is the prerogative of the forest department, it is not part of the MGNREGA works. After explaining the issue to the collector and the district-level watershed development agencies, permission was granted to trace firelines to protect and revegetate the hillocks. However, the wage rates fixed for this very arduous task on rocky hillocks was so low that after one set of firelines were traced the community found it impossible to sustain the work. A follow-up was done and realistic wage rates recommended but the government did not consider the recommendation. Protection of these hillocks through firelines would go a long way in restoring the local, natural ecosystem where a diversity of grass species and herbaceous species would re-establish themselves. It is time for the government to seriously consider the idea of ecosystem-based governance.

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