Dumka (Jharkhand), Oct 7 (ANI): Sukal Hansdak from Bhairavpur village, in the panchayat with the same name in Jharkhand’s Dumka District has been pulling a rickshaw for last 30 years to keep his and his family going. Asked how much he earns in a day, he answers ” between Rs.100-150.
The next logical question is “Is this enough?” According to Sukal “I give Rs.25-40 as rent to the rickshaw owner for the day.” That leaves anything between Rs.75-125. He spends Rs.20-30 on his own food which leaves precious little for other household expenses.
Handsak like many others in the village go to nearby towns to ply their rickshaws, to work on construction sites and sell wares on ‘thelas’ to eke out a living. For all practical purposes, notwithstanding the definitions of poverty, they are poor. Rising food expenses is a killer and this is where innovative measures by the state government have been a boon. People who live on the edge are feeling a little less burdened since the ‘Mukhyamantri Dal-Bhaat Yojana’ started operating from August 15 this year.
Now just for Rs. five they can have a full mid-day meal. This frees up the money that he necessarily needed to use for his own food.
Sukal’s relief and joy finds an echo across Jharkhand’s villages, amongst a wide cross-section of people, who struggle to earn a meager wage within the rural economy. The region falls within the Santhaal belt, predominantly tribal. In Nakti village on the Kathikund Road, the men mostly go to work as daily labour on private construction sites or in brick kilns or pulling rickshaws and selling items on ‘Thelas’ or handcarts. The women also work to make ends meet. They work as agricultural labour, but also as domestic help in rich households.
The going is tough and the rising inflation does not stop at the doorsteps of the poor, infact makes their struggle for survival even more acute. This is why the government needs to step in to provide a shield, to protect them from one of the most fundamental forms of deprivation and want-hunger. While the ambitious Food Security Bill is being thrashed out at the national level, in keeping with this essence, in Jharkhand, steps to mitigate this scourge are under way. Village women Mangal Turi, Phagu Besra and Santosh Harijan, applaud the move.
The ‘ Dal-Bhaat Yojana’ is nothing less than manna from heaven, helping them to not only stave off hunger but also save the precious amount being spent on food. Vishnu Dehri of Nanku Kuruva, Behrabak Panchayat, says “Amidst the rising costs of food, with rates of dal, oil, spices, potatoes, onion and salt increasing at a fast pace we were really feeling the pinch Now people like us who are poor and were finding it difficult to keep pace with inflation to meet their food costs are getting Dal-rice, vegetable and Chatni in just Rs.5/-! Isin’t that incredible? ”
This is indeed the human face of poverty alleviation. Rather than get bogged down by figures, by definitions of various committees or by the Planning Commission, the state government has responded to a crying need of a large section of people who are very obviously poor. Agricultural labourers, rikshaw pullers, handcart pullers, people working in unorganized sector, those who go to towns and the cities every day. These are the beneficiaries in Jharkhand.
The challenges of development in this relatively new state carved out of Bihar in November 2000 have been immense. A region full of mineral and natural resources, with a high percentage of tribal population, it was crucial to cater to the needs of the poor people, tribal and non-tribal, both with their own unique life-styles and livelihood patterns.
Essentially run by the Department of Food, Public Distribution and Consumer Affairs, these attract milling crowds at centers, which are typically housed in public institutions like hospitals, health care centers, a Public Welfare Council amongst others. Agreed this is a populist scheme, but what is important is that it is catering to the core needs of the marginalised and vulnerable amongst rural society.
According to Ramesh Kumar Chaudhri, president of a village labour union in Kuruwa “This scheme meant for the economically weaker sections is a major milestone for the government.”
“I have seen such a scheme for the first time. In Bihar I have heard of a scheme under which cheap Roti are provided which lessen the cost of food for the poor,” says Chaudhri.
Still the scheme needs to be broadened, systemized in order to benefit the largest number of deserving people. At present, each centre caters to around 400 people which are a drop in the ocean. A programme such as this needs to have its scope wide-open so that no-one who is deserving is turned away.
This is unfortunately not so and the net is quite restricted. Ehtasham Ahmad, Union leader and secretary of Jharkhand Local Body’s Employees Federation, says “Such schemes should be started in all the blocks of the state to reach the maximum number of people living in far flung rural areas and they come for employment in the towns. According to Ahmad “Having only 5-7 centers for such a huge population is like giving a crying child a ‘Jhunjhuna’ ( a rattle) instead of something to eat.” As if in response to this need, the state government has decided to open these food-centres at the block level beginning this Gandhi Jayanti. This would widen the network to a great degree.
Kamlakant Sinha, senior JDU leader and ex-MLA, believes that such schemes will help the poor for sure but these schemes should be regular. Often we see that various governments start such popular schemes but it dies its own death in a few months. “The government should have a definite budget for such schemes”, he said.
The justification and indeed the raison d’etre of such a scheme lies not in political expediencies but in responding to basic needs of a section of rural population that lives on the margins. The response in Jharkhand has been humanistic, driven by the felt need on the ground and taking steps to mitigate what is simply unacceptable. Yes such an impetus needs a policy framework, not merely to function but to sustain. Hopefully, the government will continue to show sagacity and sensitivity in overcoming hunger.
According to Charkha Development Communication, the Jharkhand Government needs to step up its efforts to protect the villagers from one of the most fundamental forms of deprivation and want-hunger. By Amrendra Suman (ANI)
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