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Dr. Mohinder Kumar,Prosperity and indebtedness in ghat "Daily Excelsior" 15/11/2015

Fields of Ghat

Ghat is located on flat top of the hill at a distance of 12 km from Doda on the banks of River Chenab. Village area is 500 acres, of which 62% is common land and only 38% private agricultural land. Average size of owned holding is 0.75 acres and common land allotment per household is 1.25 acres. With half size in terms of village area, common land and agricultural land, as compared to neighboring Shiva village, Ghat is relatively more developed due to 100% irrigation of agricultural land which gets water from perennial Bharat nallah. In contrast, hilly Shiva, situated across River Chenab is 100% dependent on scanty rainfall that occurs for one or two months. Internal pattern of prosperity of Ghat also contrasts with its economic problems.

Population of Ghat is 250 households. Its prosperity can be seen from the fact that 150 households are with pucca house construction, permanent government jobs, and agricultural land i.e., leased-out. Other 100 households are pure tenants, indebted, jobless or wage-laborers and poor. Social composition of population is 60% Muslim and 40% Hindu households. They speak Saraji and Kashmiri languages. Saraji is similar to Bhadrawahi. Ghat has majority of land owners leasing-out land on share cropping basis -trend that started 10-12 years ago. They lease-out land since they have no time for farming. Those who cultivate land, do so mainly for family subsistence, i.e. adequate for 5-6 months. For remaining 6-7 months, they purchase food grains from open market or ration shop. Common land also helps in physical survival.

Land owners in Ghat are least interested in farming; they prefer government service. Even tenants follow the footsteps of land-owners and are not very keen to farming. There is attitudinal change in approach to life. For them economic progress means moving out of profession of farming. Literacy is 100%; village has Post-graduate youths in each household; all are unemployed. Farmers and Sarpanch made at least 10 visits of banks and Agriculture Office incurring transport cost to get Kisan Credit Cards (KCCs) sanctioned, only to be told that their papers are in Patwari office. Role of Sarpanches in KCCs in J&K has been immense and untold.

Under MNREGA scheme, Ghat witnessed interesting facts. Out of 600 youths, village has 360 Job-Card holders. Other 240 youths were not interested in MNREGA wage-labor as they thought they were educated, and doing wage-labor symbolized low prestige. Initially they would go to the work site on motorcycle with misconception that job would be of service type. Gradually as they came to know MNREGA stood for wage-labor, not white-color supervisory service, they started withdrawing. It implies many youths supported by household prosperity were well-off by sheer dependence. When they were offered wage-labor, the reality of job market became clear to them. Of them, 40 youths not interested in laborer job became Work/Labor Contractor by acquiring knowledge of work through on-site “experience”. Problem of MNREGA in Ghat is that Gram Panchayat is allocated 50% of village plan estimate. Limited implementation of MNREGA and apathy to wage-labor drives jobless youths fromhousehold-dependency to bank dependency to start own enterprises. Finance is fetish and attracts all.

At least 30% households have two members in government service. Occupational pattern in village is changing from agriculture to service. However, no youth has migrated from village. Ghat has small bazaar for varied shops (barber, bakery, tea distribution agency, fruits, karyana, etc.). A bakery unit of Ghat financed by bank under SGSY implemented by DRDA has been acclaimed for its success by the Ministry of Rural Development, Govt. of India even as video film of bakery unit was made. There are two bank branches -J&K Bank and Jammu DCCB, and third branch of SBI has also come up in Ghat.

Out of 250 households, 150 were BPL as per list prepared in 2002. However, Sarpanch arranged for rectification since this list had 75 ‘farzi’ names. In 2012 BPL list was reduced to 75 households. Fictitious names in BPL and ration list happened during the peak of militancy. People with dubious credentials always sought to take undue advantage of chaotic politico-social conditions. However, 20 households are pauperized, semi-starved, extremely poor, and face problems of inadequate food, winter clothing and fuel wood. Such households are afflicted with disease/ widowed/ no income earners and affected by militancy. They survive on charity and donation from villagers. Youths expect bank loan waiver package. Banks still provide loans because “they have to do business”, opined villagers and Sarpanch. Ghat requires immediate access to real financial literacy. Some youths take loan and wait for loan waiver or repay it now to borrow again with the intention of willful default or waiver.

Villagers think that following economic activities have scope for development under Non-Farm Sector based on local or imported produce/raw materials in Ghat: Fruit juice; tomato ketchup making; jam making; flour mill; mustard oil mill; cement factory (stone available);steel factory (iron rods, girders); coal industry (by burning hard white stone available); lime industry (stone is available); brick kilns (bricks imported from Jammu, Akhnoor and Samba costly @Rs.8/- per brick); stone crusher; macadam manufacturing plant (Devdar/ Kaeel trees are in abundance in Ghat and Doda which produce raw charcoal/ macadam even as raw product is derived from stem and filled in tin containers; many truck loads are exported to Uttarakhand and other states to manufacture finished macadam); wooden furniture (raw wood Devdar, Kaeel, Sheesham, Walnut from Ghat is hitherto exported to Jammu, and furniture is imported); and mini hydel power projects (on Chenab). Villagers require bank loan for development of collectives for above activities.

In Farm sector, the following activities have good scope in Ghat: (i) poultry farm (poultry birds were imported) due to high local demand; and (ii) dairy farm (desi ghee and paneer is imported from Jammu) even as good pasture lands are available for animal husbandry and dairy; the only constraint would be to protect maize crop, from monkey attack, for fodder.

Out of 250 households, 100 households are indebted by banks’ loans. Banks are liberal to give loans though there are substantial diversions of funds from intended productive use. Banks are unable to find solution of non-repayment of loans while more borrowers are ready to take repeat loans. Even prospective economic activities suggested above are intended to be based on bank loans, if available, ignoring institutional indebtedness of households. Each indebted household owes an amount of Rs.10000 to 1.50 lakh repayment to the banks. Social mobilization for group (SHG) formation is found arduous process; households are not creditworthy for individual loans; households considered creditworthy in the past are hitherto indebted. Banks have no option and are in dilemma. Though demand for bank loans exists, supply is constrained by past failures. Banks and borrowers, both are unable to cope with the existing complex situation created by failed loans coupled with more demand.

Ghat has pipelined drinking water supply scheme (WSS) called Bharat WSS. It has two storage tanks for which water is sourced from Bharat nallah that flows throughout the year. However, supply of water is not safe for human consumption. WSS does not have chambers for physical filtering of water. A filter hose exists which is dysfunctional. Supplied water is filthy, particularly in rainy season. Untrained 22 persons are posted at WSS. Villagers want excess staff should be removed and safe drinking water should be provided. Since not much work is involved for 22 persons posted there, their wages are held for over a year. As staff is untrained and insensitive to human health aspects, excess quantity of bleaching powder by rough estimate beyond norm is dissolved. De-silting and cleaning of tanks is not regularly done. It contains filth, sand, rotten leaves, and sewage water from drains of households gets mixed in nallah. Despite sanitation drive, villagers aware about filth cannot do much to set the system right. They approached PHED several times or even DDC Doda though system is yet to be cleaned to meet demand for safe drinking water. However, as supplementary source, water tanker daily supplies clean water brought from chashma. Investment in WSS is gone waste.

Entire length of pucca canal, constructed 60 years ago, by Irrigation Department on hilly land is 4 km and its source is perennial Bharat nallah. However, it is not repaired more often. Once in a while small amount of Rs.20000 is spent on maintenance, which is insufficient. Channel water gets wasted away by leakage or breaking. Farmers themselves repaired it by own effort which is not adequate. They demand regular maintenance and repair as and when breakages developed. Farmers use canal water for paddy. Gram Panchayat may be given freedom for small works. Villagers wish if three ghrut (watermills) were operated using nallah, it would be useful; presently one ghrut is operated.

Ghat has separate power sub-house. Villagers feel need of separate lineman for repair because current lineman is not regularly available in summer, as he has to look after three transformers in entire Ghat area. In winter electric lines get dysfunctional due to snow. Villagers also demand streetlights. Sarpanch feels strong need of entrepreneurship development programmes for village youths. It’s a complicated situation even as indebtedness due to institutional credit is prevalent among 100 households and yet more loans are needed. Desperate graduates and post-graduates are willing to get teacher’s job under Rehber-e-Talim at meager salary of Rs.2000 to 4000 in the hope that after five years they shall become permanent, notwithstanding many youths who are yet to be made permanent after elapse of 8-10 years. Village youths have started thinking about self-employment, for which they think they need bank loans, irrespective of poor repayment performance in the past. Mystical power of bank financing as panacea for problems hardly goes since it’s a popular fetish propagated by philosophy of financial inclusion. In nutshell, Ghat is a complex whole of unresolved complications, challenges, opportunities, potentials, few achievements, prosperity and poverty -in equal measure. Village requires holistic understanding of the issues, development planning, and really free-full participation of villagers for execution of tasks to attain human prosperity without attendant indebtedness and poverty.

(Author works for NABARD. Views expressed are personal)

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