Development Project changes lives of tribals in Bihar plateau
RANCHI: A World Bank funded $117 million Bihar Plateau Development Project, launched in 1992, seems to have brought quite a few positive changes in the lives of the tribals, who are original inhabitants of this area.
The four major components of the project, designed to boost rural incomes in the underdeveloped plateau region included rural roads, agriculture, public health engineering and minor irrigation projects.
"Though all the four components are very closely related to each other, yet around 50 per cent of the total fund was used to design rural roads and bridges", said Suresh Mishra, Chief engineer in the public works department of jharkhand. Mishra was associated with the project since it was approved by the world bank.
"The project was for the entire 67 blocks of Jharkhand area which includes 7300 villages spread over an area of 23 thousand square kilometres", Mishra said.
As large quantity of natural products like mahua, timber, tendu leaves, and vegetables like jackfruit apart from iron, copper and bauxite ores are produced in the tribal areas, the objective was to provide them connectivity and market accessibility thereby negating the role of middlemen", Mishra said.
"This component was implemented by the rural engineering organisation and the rural engineering department and supported by village panchayats," said Mishra adding "originally the project was signed for construction of 1200 kmof rural roads and 4780 mt of bridges but during the mid-term review held in 1995 the target for rural roads was increased to 1290 km and 9780 mt for the bridges".
"The sum alloted for the rural road sector was Rs 191.1 crore which was raised to 237.38 crore during the mid-term review", he said. The actual expenditure at the end of the project in June 2000 has come to Rs 244 crore out of which Rs 200 crore was spent on the civil works while Rs 44 crore wasthe supervision charges by an international firm scot Wilson consultants"
"Around 150 km of rural road could not be constructed because the forest department refused to grant permission saying the area came under reserved forests," he said.
Asked about the need for international supervision, Praveen Kumar, assistant engineer with the PWD, who was also associated with the project since it began, said "it was a part of the agreement between the World Bank and the govt.
"The world bank teams paid regular visits to the sites and closely monitored the work," said Kumar.
At the end of it all, it is now easier for farmers to access markets.
"It is now easier for me to sell rice in the market. I also grow flowers in my farms and sell them in the city (Ranchi). Earlier it was not like this. I hardly had any access to the markets," says Ramesh, who lives in Haaf village of Nankun block.
It is not only the roads and bridges that have altered the life of Ramesh and many others like him in Jharkhand. As 90 per cent of the people in tribal areas are engaged in agriculture providing them better irrigation facilities and new agricultural techniques was also an equally important objective of the project.
"Sensing the large market for flowers in the state, we decided to give assistance to some farmers who were interested in growing flowers", said Rajinder Kishore, deputy director in the horticulture department of Jharkhand adding "what began with seven farmers in 1997 has now been adopted by 75."
"We grow marigold, jaldera and gladulus on the land which was once barren. I got seeds and manure from the government and underwent a formal training", said Ramesh adding "I earned Rs 8000 during the diwali season".
"I spread this message among other farmers as I want visitors to stop by and appreciate the flowers," said Ramesh.
Similarly providing adequate water for irrigation during the cropping season was also an important component of the project. This component was implemented by the minor irrigation department, rural development department with participation of district and block development officers together with ngos and user groups/water user associations within the panchayats through local contractors.
"Irrigation is a problem in the area. We have to depend on rain water harvesting, techniques of which have been evolved in many areas to conserve the water," said Jayaram, joint secretary in department of agriculture adding "since the soil here is loose, it gets carried away by the rain water".
"Large catchment areas and check dams have been formed to overcome the problem. This is in fact a long term solution", said Jayaram adding "user groups have been formed in the villages comprising one member from eachfamily.
"Apart from providing them with better irrigation facilities this component has brought people together. They are now more assertive in their demand for water. Earlier, influential people had easier access to irrigation water, depriving the poor. All that is changing", said Jayaram.
The plateau area, now in Jharkhand, has the highest concentration of tribal population in two regions of Chotanagpur and Santhal Parganas. The area has a tropical monsoon climate with rich mineral deposits including coal and iron ore. The upland soils are generally light red with varying degrees of sand, loam and clay; and have low levels of plant nutrients and get drained easily.
Rice, wheat and oil seeds are grown primarily on the low and medium lands while maize and pulses are grown on uplands.
Things seem to be fast moving for the better in this six month old Jaharkhand state.