Supported by BRLF, Ushar Mukti is a unique initiative of cooperation between the CSOs and the government to create sustainable livelihoods for tribal communities, women and other vulnerable groups
Published on March 22, 2021 at 6:51 am
Bharat Rural Livelihoods Foundation (BRLF) is an independent society set up by the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India to scale up civil society action in partnership with the government. BRLF aims to strengthen rural India, especially the Adivasis in the Central Indian Tribal region, to improve the lives of its impoverished population and to strengthen their confidence in governance in coordination with the Civil Society Organisations (CSO), the Indian government and the state governments. Today, the BRLF provides financial support to 59 CSOs, which are implementing large-scale sustainable agricultural livelihood projects with an aim to uplift rural communities, especially tribal communities and women in 8,480 villages, 1,866 Gram Panchayats, 251 blocks, 86 districts in 8 states in Central India.
In 2017, BRLF was invited by the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act (MNREGA) Cell, Panchayat and Rural Department of the Government of West Bengal to launch a project entitled “Ushar Mukti—Effective Implementation of MGNREGA in Watershed Mode in the Jangalmahal area.” It is a unique initiative of cooperation between the CSOs and the state government and is supported by BRLF to create sustainable livelihoods for tribal communities, women and other vulnerable groups across 1.2 million hectares of land in 55 blocks in 5 districts of western West Bengal (also known as Jangalmahal) through appropriate land and water treatment measures implemented in the catchment area with funds from MGNREGA. Agriculture is the main occupation of the people living in the region. However, limited access to irrigation means that farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture – 16% of the net sown area is irrigated. 45% of the rural households in the region belong to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category with high incidences of poverty among ST and SC communities.
Initial evaluations of MGNREGA show that MGNREGA’s ability to generate lasting assets that can improve the productivity of agriculture and related activities is at best uneven. West Bengal has been one of the best performing states in implementation of the MGNREGA.
The involvement of the BRLF partner CSOs in the implementation of MGNREGA ranges from mobilisation, transparency, vigilance, quality monitoring and social audits. The Ushar Mukti programme focussed primarily on the relationship between government and civil society. The focus of the programme is not to make the CSOs quasi-implementers of the programme, but to strengthen the MGNREGA ecosystem locally by building capacities of the frontline MGNREGA functionaries. In addition, the programme has a clear mandate to implement MGNREGA in an approach focused on the rejuvenation of the region’s natural rivers and streams. Perhaps the unique selling point of Ushar Mukti was the shift to a comprehensive watershed treatment of the entire Jangalmahal area.
An evaluation study of Ushar Mukti showed the steady progress in improving and supporting the livelihoods of the marginalised groups. This has been achieved primarily through rapid improvements in the implementation of MGNREGA and the creation of durable and sustainable land and water resources on a large scale. To date, the programme has managed to treat 54,771 ha. of land benefiting 135,976 HHs through 29,869 schemes by leveraging Rs 488.35 Cr. and generating Rs 2.22 Cr. person-days from MGNREGA. BRLF supported Ushar Mukti to ensure the growing involvement of CSOs in the planning and implementation of MGNREGA. Ushar Mukti has witnessed since its inception the growing involvement of the community and the Gram Panchayats (involved in the implementation of MGNREGA) on the planning and implementation of the programme. Community-based organisations (especially self-help groups) serve as catalysts to improve the relationship between communities, Gram Panchayats and CSOs. The institutional mechanisms of interaction between stakeholders are characterised by an increasing complexity of formal-informal/frequent-infrequent connections between decisions and actions.
“Ushar Mukti is a unique example of state-civil society partnership to take an idea to scale. Such partnerships are a win-win for both state and civil society. For civil society, they offer a way of scaling up their work smoothly and translating their localised experiences onto a larger canvas. For the state, such partnerships ensure that the rich experience of civil society work is assimilated to ensure quality at scale while building capacities of its own grassroots functionaries, ” says Pramathesh Ambasta, Chief Executive Officer, BRLF.
Dream come true for Swapan
Purulia is known to be the driest, warmest and one of the poorest districts in West Bengal. Agriculture is the main source of livelihoods for this drought-prone region of the state. Like many inhabitants of the area, water is a critical resource for Swapan Marmu, both for the supply of drinking water to his family and for the cultivation of crops. Swapan is a marginal farmer in the Sagedi village of Puncha Block in the district. After the start of the Ushar Mukti programme, the focus was on asset-building aimed at improving land productivity through soil and water conservation. Pradan, the lead CSO started working closely with the community and members of the Bagda Gram Panchayat. Swapan has always dreamt of having his own hapa (small pond), which will provide him with access to clean drinking water and help him farm.
Swapan worked diligently with the Dharasevaks to plan the construction of hapa on barren land. The newly constructed hapa (60`X55`X12`) has been built at an estimated cost of INR 100,000 while generating 260 person days through excavation work under MGNREGA. Today, the hapa takes care of the drinking water needs of Swapan’s family and neighbours. Swapan also uses the water for the cultivation of seasonal vegetables (pumpkin, snake pumpkin and bitter pumpkin) along with black gram and pigeon peas. His neighbours are happy, too, because there is water on the otherwise unproductive land to grow vegetables and few other crops. Swapan also plans to introduce fish spawns in the hapa. He is optimistic about increasing family income by 50,000-60,000 INR, which will help ensure food security and generate additional income for the family.