Monday, April 12, 2010

#31. Some Good Times

The Most Satisfying Moments of My Life

I was a young Sub-Divisional Officer in a place which still had some unreachable areas where no SDO had ever visited. Jashpur was a hilly area more a part of adjoining state of Bihar than the then Madhya Pradesh. It was early seventies and I had some funds in the local body under my charge. With some additional money from a government scheme I decided to make 50 school buildings. I had visited each and every selected village, selected the site, sometimes stayed over when the overseer put the layout. It was not necessary, but it gave me satisfaction.
In one village, there was a pucca well which was made under some government scheme. Next to it was a piece of land which was ideal for the school, and I homed in on it. I casually inquired whether the well was being used by the villagers. It was a pointless question, as the well looked deserted.
“Sir, the well water is not used”. I was curious,”Why?”
“The water is bitter”. The village had another common well, and that seemed to be just enough.
“Anyway, the water seems good enough for construction purposes, and we will build the school here.”
Those days the school building construction was a little prolonged affair. It was drawing to summer, and the first thing was to make clay bricks which needed quite some water, and fire a kiln with coal which was carried from outside. Coal area was nearby in Bihar. Cement had to be carried, but all other building material was local: country tiles, timber and doors and windows made by the local carpenter. I closely monitored this scheme which was close to my heart, and a few months later I did go to the same village again to watch the progress. The school was on the verge of completion. The well nearby had proved handy. I saw another
thing which raised my curiosity. I saw some village belles drawing water from the well.
“What are they taking water for?”
“For household purposes”was the reply. Then somebody who was present during my last visit explained,”Sir, as a large quantity of water was drawn for brick making and for construction purposes, whatever impurity was there in the water was removed, and now the villagers have started using the water.”
So obviously the water was polluted by some wild plant or maybe some dead animal, and there was nothing wrong with the water. Unintentionally I had brought the well back to life.
I was Collector at Durg which is now in Chhattisgarh. In the lean season every year, the landless and marginal and small cultivators need some job as there are no agricultural operations going at that time. There were not many regular labour- intensive employment generating schemes at that time. But there was a provision in the Scarcity Manual under which an area could be declared scarcity-affected and work could be taken up under orders of the Collector. This became a regular feature in that part of the State. Even now there is a substantial migration of labour during summer from Chhattisgarh to other more prosperous states. I hasten to add that sometimes there was a genuine scarcity and works were needed to sustain the village folk. Now it was a one of those years. I had gone to a block headquarters for a normal visit which a Collector is supposed to do, and also to check scarcity works going on in the area.
The Agriculture Extension Officer came to me and was explaining about a loan scheme which he had diligently prepared in consultation with a local bank for deepening a couple of ponds for the benefit of the fishermen who had the contract for the fishing rights over them. It was a good scheme, and the AEO was sincere. I checked up the status of the village. It was in the list of scarcity affected areas.
With a straight face I asked, “Have you thought of taking the work under the scarcity programme?”
The AEO was taken unawares. He hadn’t imagined that it could be taken up fully with the government funds without any burden to the fishermen’s society. Ultimately I sanctioned a small amount of probably 25 to 30 thuosand for each after going through the normal procedure of obtaining the estimates, and sanctioning the amount from the district headquartes. My timely visit to the village saved the fishermen from avoidable indebtedness.
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In another area a lift irrigation scheme which was handed over to a cooperative society of the villagers for running and maintenance was at that time neglected and became non-functional because of lack of contribution from the members. And there were paddy crops nearby which were dying because of lack of water. To say the least I was amazed. I asked the local AEO to see that the LIS started working, and assured the power dues from the scarcity funds. The connection was originally terminated for that reason only. The scheme could restart. The credit goes mainly to the AEO who did all the spadework and running around. I haven’t been able to understand the psyche of the villagers who allowed it to go to the seed. It may have been a plentiful year when water was in plenty.

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