To get to Doma in Maharashtra, a small hamlet in the state's Melghat region, one has to travel through 30 km of adjoining Madhya Pradesh. Isolated though it is, Doma offers a fine example of what the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or MGNREGS, has achieved.
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"Earlier we had no work in this area and I had to always travel outside of the village searching for employment," says Jugnu Soma Ulke, 45. "But last year I got enough work under the NREGS right here in the village and earned a total of Rs 40,000."
So too the scheme enabled Damu Dhurve, 50, and her husband from the same village to earn around Rs 25,000 last year. "Earlier we ate only chutney with Roti. Today we can afford dal, roti and sabzi."
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In the last 15 months, the MGNREGS has enabled some beneficiaries in parts of the Melghat region to earn, not just enough for their basic needs, but also sufficient to buy motorbikes, mobile phones and gold. The Doma gram panchayat has earned Rs 70 lakh in NREGS wages. Its counterpart in neighbouring Gangarkheda village raked in Rs 65 lakh, Kajaldoh Rs 60 lakh, and Kohama, Rs 22 lakh.
Gulab Mohanlal Patote, deputy village head of Doma, is happy that migration from the village in search of jobs has reduced, and villagers have also stopped borrowing from moneylenders.
One factor that has contributed to the success of the scheme in these villages is the quick disbursal of wages within 15 days, thanks to a new model of delivery designed by the district called the Melghat model.
JS Paplkar, district collector of Amravati, within which Melghat falls, describes how the pattern works in the region. "We kept a rolling fund at the Paratwada head post-office and transported the money through vans to the eight sub post offices of the region. The sub post offices are allowed to take entries of only up to Rs 10,000. How to transfer larger sums? A way out was found to deposit multiple entries of Rs 10,000 that was then quickly distributed," he says.
The scheme, with this new approach, was implemented in all 324 villages in the Chikhaldara and Dharni tehsils of the region with a fresh approach in 2010/11. While the total expenditure of the district for the financial year was Rs 22.92 crore, the expenditure for the Melghat region was Rs 13.47 crore. In 2009-10 the expenditure in the Melghat region was Rs 5.67 crore.
However, the benefits of the scheme have not percolated down to some of the most remote villages of Melghat such as Raipur, Boratyakheda and Retyakheda. These are situated at the other end inside the Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) and still lack basic amenities such as good health facilities, education, power, infrastructure and employment opportunities.
Ganaji Dandu Dande, a 73-year-old resident of Raipur, says he only asks for good infrastructure, health facilities and jobs for the village youths.
On an average 60 per cent of the families in these villages inside the Melgaht Tiger Reserve are landless. Getting work in the fields of the big landholders here is not always possible. Raipur, Borathyakheda and Retyaklheda have a total of 205 families of which 99 own land and the rest are landless labourers. There is large scale migration from these villages in search of employment.
Purnima Upadhyay of NGO Khoj says health infrastructure and education needs to be strengthened in the region and MGNREGS must be properly implemented. The scheme requires applicants to be given work for a minimum of 100 days a year. "But what we have found is that families get work for only 20 days," says Upadhyay.
The Korku tribe in this region has been deprived of their right to development, with hardly any development plans being implemented. Ideally, these villages have to be resettled out of the Tiger Reserve. But, the proposed plans of the rehabilitation committee are not implemented as funds have not been released by the Centre.
The ministry of environment and forests, or MoEF, through its National Tiger Conservation Authority, or NTCA, last year released Rs 18 crore for the purpose. The amount helped resettle three villages. Pravin Pardeshi, principal Secretary (Forest) Maharashtra says: "There are in all 17 villages that have to be shifted out of MTR and resettled. Raipur is one of them. But, so far we have been able to resettle only three villages namely Borukheda, Nagardas and Amona with a total of 450 families have been resettled with Rs 10 lakh per family with the Rs 18 crore that was received for resettlement."
This year a demand for Rs 50 crore has been sent across to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) for resettling the villages. In the meanwhile, the authorities have assured that the Employment Guarantee Scheme, or EGS, will start in these villages from January and continue till about May. There is also an eco-development committee that has been set up and as per the State Compensatory Afforestation fund management & Planning Authority (CAMPA) Rs 15 lakh per village has been allocated for undertaking eco-development work and to also gainfully provide employment to the educated youths of the region.
The youths are being trained to be forest guides and it has now become mandatory that anyone who takes a trip into the wildlife sanctuary has to take along a local guide.