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Gujarat govt’s Vanbandhu scheme fails to ease tribal migration

By Rajiv Shah 
Despite huge claims by the Gujarat government about the positive impact of the 10-point programme on the migration process in the tribal areas of the state, recent expert observations as also research works on a district which is exclusively tribal, the Dangs, suggest that though the region may have received better infrastructure facilities, such as roads, the tribals’ livelihood issues remain unresolved like before. In one of the most recent observations, Janmejaya Mishra, an anthropologist by profession working with the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), Ahmedabad, has shown how Dangs’ tribal population faced an “endangered livelihood”, with large number of them continuing to migrate like before.
Giving the instance of a tribal named Kailash of Timerthava village in Subir area of the Dangs district, Mishra write in his blog, this tribal has been migrating with his wife to Belanpur near Mandvi for last few years, and continues to do this even today. “He and his wife work there as agriculture labourers – cutting sugarcane in Gandevi Sugar factory for 7-8 months each year. Post monsoon, he migrates alone to Surat seeking for temporary labour work in construction sites. Working there for 2-3 months, he returns to his village”, Mishra notes.
Pointing out that he is not alone, Mishra says, along with him and his wife, there are “nearly 15 other couples from other villages of the Dangs. They work in groups for sugarcane cutting. In a day, they cut around 15-16 tonnes of sugarcane. When the trucks arrive at midnight, they wake up for loading. Each couple could end up with cutting one ton of sugarcane a day for which they get nearly Rs. 250-270. The entire work demands nearly 18 hours of hard work in a day including loading of sugarcane in trucks at night.”
Suggesting how these migrants are exploited, Mishra underlines, “The factory owner pays them in lump sum – Rs 22000-25000 at the end of the season when they return to their home after working there nearly for 7-8 months in a year before monsoon. This amount he decides after deducting the amount he paid in advance for supply of food grains for consumption and polythene sheets for construction of temporary shelters for the migrant labourers during onset of the season. Each couple gets nearly 60 kg of grain per month during the work.”
Mishra wonders, “How do they manage for 7-8 months without any payment at work sites? They sell the residue of sugarcane which is leftover after cutting to local villagers who use it as fodder for their cattle. This fetches them nearly Rs 20 per bundle. From this, they purchase daily rations and other emergency expenditures like healthcare, etc. Children accompanying their parents either play in sugarcane fields or sometime go to local anganwadi which is located nearby, but Kailash is not sure who runs it.”
Kailash’s story, as told by Mishra, is corroborated by a top Gujarat government bureaucrat who has been directly involved in the development of the Dangs for several decades. One of them is Dr SK Nanda, who in his blog has admitted that migration continues because no small scale industries have taken shape for the landless tribals in thje Dangs, who form nearly half of the tribal population of the district. Suggesting there is an urgent requirement for skill upgradation in the district for the tribals, Dr Nanda, who is one of the senior-most IAS bureaucrats, writes, a major reason for migration is “water deficient”.
Saying that migration of people takes place “on account of scarcity of irrigation for the agricultural operations”, he underlines the need for having land leveling, soil conservation and check dams by joint efforts of forest and panchayat so that agricultural stabilization takes place in this pocket and with medium and large farmers employing the landless category with sustainable employment.”
Pointing towards lack of administrative support to the backward district, Dr Nanda says, “The post of district primary education officer, poultry officer as well as civil surgeon cannot be left unmanned even for a moment looking to the needs as well as aspiration of the people”. He is also aware of a higher dropout rate among primary school children, though the reasons he gives for this is not migration or administrative inertia.
He says, “No doubt, roads are good and road connectivity is excellent but one of the reasons why students probably become drop outs is triggered of by absence of bus connectivity due to plying of old worn out buses which need replacement and also there is need for introduction of bus routes in areas now connected with new roads. The schools are poorly attended by children though parents want them to got but sending them in unreliable and unworthy transport vehicles, which get stuck in midst of forests.”
A recent research paper, “Status of Primary Education: A Case Study of The Dangs District in Gujarat”, by Gaurang Rami of the department of economics, Veer Narmad South Gujarat University, Surat, also says that “dropout rate and repetition rate is very high” in the Dangs, but to him this is mainly because of administrative problems. He believes it has more to do with “factors number of teachers in the school, instructions method, content of syllabus, parent’s educational background, etc.”
Suggesting that a “careful study is required on this aspect and corrective measures have to be taken”, he particularly regrets a recent government decision to close down the schools which have less than 100 students in the primary schools, affecting children’s education in the Dangs. It would mean, in Dangs the government would have to close down about 222 primary schools out of 378 primary schools run by the Dangs District Panchayat. Rami adds, “This decision will have strong negative impact on the access to education in the tribal students’ especially tribal girls to pursue primary education as they need to travel to distant places for getting primary education.”
Quoting a government report, Rami has found that while repetition rate is particularly very high among lower primary levels in the Dangs, ranging between 13 and 23 per cent, the dropout rate reaches a whopping 88 per cent at the higher primary level.
Another study, by NGO Behavioural Science Centre, Ahmedabad, “Status of Employment among Adanisi Youth of South Gujarat”, has found how “educated youth have started migrating to Surat in search of work/ to work on sugarcane fields like uneducated tribal migrant labourers from Dangs.” It says, “Some youngsters have learnt masonry and brick-making skills but they have to migrate out, as employment is not available locally. They are ready to work if employment opportunities are developed there.” As for young girls, they “have got the stitching skills but market linkages are weak. Despite good skills of sewing and of embroidery, the girls do not get more work from the respective villages or neighbouring villages.”
The report points to how some of the companies “at Silvassa and Vapi have appointed contractors who bring workers from the villages to work; the poor tribals have to migrate to serve these industries during seasons i.e from Diwali to March mainly as and when required.” It adds, “Discrimination is seen in the industries for the tribals is observed. Non-tribals always try to snatch away the employment opportunity from the tribals and tribals do not know how to protect their source of employment, upgrade their skills and reaching out to the market to earn better.”
In his research work for the University of Amsterdam, “Social security schemes in tribal areas of Gujarat”, Prof Satyakam Joshi regrets that even the National Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) has not been able reduce migration of the tribals in the Dangs district sizably. “One of the important objectives of the scheme was to reduce migration and improve the quality of life of the people through employment. This scheme only generated 15 to 20 days of employment for an individual, hence it would be difficult to percolate the benefits of employment on migration reduction and new asset creation”, the researcher says, adding, hence the tribals prefer to go to work for sugarcane. “Out of 100 respondents, 82 reported that their family earned between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,000 in 2011. In the previous year, 84 respondents had reported that they earned Rs 700- Rs 1,000.”
No doubt, the researcher says, “NREGS might have influenced migration but not in a big scale. Many respondents said that if they got continuous employment for 100 days, they would not go to the sugarcane fields as the work there was very hard and laborious. They preferred to work in the sugar fields as they got regular employment there for six to seven months. Reduction in migration was also due to overall improvement in agriculture production.”
Yet another study, “Education of children among seasonally migrating tribes of Dangs district, Gujarat”, by Dr. J. Godwin Premsing and Wesley D Ebenezer of Bishop Heber College, Tiruchirappalli, has found that “Seasonal family migration is widespread, but is not well understood or documented. Any attempt to grasp the reality of this phenomenon leads to a complicated set of inter-related issues. This occurs due to the lack of livelihood options after the harvest of the monsoon crop (kharif) in most rain fed parts of the country, which gives rise to indebtedness and food insecurity. This forces the entire family to leave home in search of work in order to survive.”
Surveying the profile of tribals in the Dangs, the researchers find that 41.08 per cent of the population (the majority) early below Rs. 45,000 per annum, and most of them are tribal migrants. Only about five per cent of the tribals earn over Rs. 1,50,000, which shows “the desperate and economic backwardness of the region.” This makes “indigenous peoples extremely dependent on the government machinery for protection of their rights and for development. This has led to much slower progress in the development of independent attitudes among the children.”
In fact, the researchers, basing their study on information collected from the field, say, there is a high drop-out rate, both in secondary and higher secondary school in the Dangs district in comparison to primary school. “The education system in the name of eradicating illiteracy produced a considerable number of semi-educated indigenous youth who remain unemployed with an acquired bias against traditional occupations and manual labor. With the increasing pressure on their lands and dwindling land holdings, the indigenous peoples have been forced to change their cropping patterns from food crops to cash crops which have impoverished them further and adversely affected nutritional intake. Often the youth migrate to semi-urban agglomerations where they may have to live in degradation and frustration.”

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