A dream come true

The national rural employment guarantee scheme in Rajasthan’s Udaipur district has ensured a regular income to the poor, including the elderly, of the area, reports Shubhadeep Choudhury

Women labourers employed under the NREGA scheme
Women labourers employed under the NREGA scheme

For Bhagwati Bera, whose village Bari falls in Makdadav panchayat in Rajasthan’s Udaipur district, eating a square meal at the end of the day has suddenly become a reality, courtesy the launching of a scheme under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in the area.

Bera is an old man like most of the members of the labour force at the site. Old women and a sprinkling of young women form the remaining personnel of the workforce engaged in constructing the 2-km-long road to link Bari with Idmal. The NREGA work does not attract able-bodied men of the villages, who work elsewhere to earn better wages.

Press Information Bureau (PIB) had flown a media team to Udaipur for showing the work carried out for poor people under the Central scheme. Union Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh is of the view that NREGA has made a beginning in Udaipur. Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and a health programme were the other subjects on the agenda of the organisers.

Small dams called anikets have been constructed for crop harvesting
Small dams called anikets have been constructed for crop harvesting

At Bari, where zila parishad executive engineer K L Sisodia took the media team, 33 people were working. The workers are getting paid at the rate of Rs 72 per day, the minimum daily wage in Rajasthan. A majority of the workers at the site are making around Rs 60 daily, as they are being paid according to their output. A labourer can work under the NREGA scheme for maximum 100 days in a year. It, thus, ensures an income of Rs 6,000 annually and helps elderly villagers to not become a burden on their families.

At Salana, near Bari, the rocky soil of Rajasthan was being dug for making a well. The workforce consisted of eight men, including the landowner himself, and a bull. Everybody is getting paid for the work, including the landowner. As many as 428 such wells are being dug in Udaipur district. Zila parishad personnel first open up a crater with explosives, and the labourers take on from there. Use of explosives at a later stage is avoided in deference to the NREGA guideline prohibiting the use of machine tools for any project.

Small dams have also been made at slopes and at points where water could be brought for harvesting. Called anikets, some of these dams must be quite deep as reports of two suicides in two such dams were reported in the morning papers on March 8. Villagers said instead of just one crop, they would be now able to sow two or three crops because of the opportunity of irrigation provided by the dams.

Among the labourers assembled at one dam, there were two girls who said they were studying in a college. The workforce at the site was entirely made of impoverished women. Poverty here is rampant and widespread. Villages do not have electricity, drinking water or sanitation. The uniform of blue shorts and light-coloured shirts, provided to children free of cost under the SSA, seemed to be the only clothes for many of the village children.

They may have even stopped going to school but wore the uniform all the same to cover their tiny frames. School dropouts as well as children who have never attended any school are seen in abundance. Schools running under the SSA mostly have inflated figures with regard to enrolment of students. In the Rajkiya Prathamik Vidyalaya (government primary school) at Paba, Udaipur, 47 students were enrolled, though only 16 were in attendance. This school was not part of the itinerary of the organisers of the tour.

The young patients at Maharana Bhupal Singh Hospital at Udaipur were also poor. The staircase of the general hospital, like most government hospitals in the country, smelled of urine and excreta. However, the ward where school children are kept for giving them treatment free of cost was clean. Prakash Gameti, an eight-year-old child suffering from respiratory problem, whose bed was first to come by from the door, suddenly found himself surrounded by a crowd of journalists and officials. In another bed, Kiran, a student of class VI in the government school at Sundarwas, was awaiting her appendicitis surgery. She also must be having a mouth infection. This reporter, who lowered his head to catch the frail voice of the bedridden child, was stung by the terrible smell coming from her mouth.

Under the scheme run by the government in partnership with a private organisation, six children had been paid the expenses for their heart surgeries at the Escort group’s hospital in Ahmedabad. Unfortunately, rather than worrying about the proliferation of heart patients among the impoverished children of the area, officials were rather proud of the feat of "six heart surgeries". There was also an ICU in the hospital for children, which was thankfully empty.

Insensitivity of officials again surfaced during a visit to Pandit Khemraj Uchcha Prathamik Vidyalaya in Udaipur. The first stop in the school was a class which students with different kinds of disabilities shared with ordinary students. Samir, a polio-affected student, was asked by Principal Babulal Jain to greet the visitors. As Samir got up, teachers and officials screamed "orthopaedic, orthopaedic" (meaning orthopaedically handicapped), as if that was only way to introduce the 12-year-old.

Hemant, an ‘MR’ (mentally retarded), was pressed by Jain to put up a song and dance performance. Hemant, who is older than other boys and girls of the class, sung in a soft, melancholic tone and danced with the song, making slow mechanical movements. Hemant and Mukesh Notiya, the latter affected by Down’s syndrome, also danced together on the instructions of the principal.

At Kasturba Gandhi Residential School at Dholkipati, near Udaipur, one came across some chirpy and healthy girls. These girls, who had stopped studying, were made to undergo a condensed curriculum and then adjusted in various classes according to their abilities. All their needs are taken care of by the school. The school is up to the eighth standard, which is where the SSA stops. Sita Sharma, additional district project coordinator of SSA, Udaipur, said the state government would arrange for further studies of interested and promising students of the school.