Showing posts with label economy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label economy. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Enterprising Odisha women take to selling fish to improve lives

Women in Odisha’s coastal fishing villages have turned to selling fish and value-added fishery products after eliminating middlemen and abolishing the home brewing of country liquor, the root cause of their problems.

Selling fish at the local fish market, Dulana Das (40) of Rambha village in Odisha’s Ganjam district took pride in introducing herself as a businesswoman instead of a fisherwoman. “I buy fish every morning from fishermen who fish in Chilika Lake and the nearby sea,” Dulana told VillageSquare.in.“With a designated place for me in the market, and a 20% profit, I earn a good income.” 

“Women like Dulana have not only contributed to economic progress of their families, but to improvement of their social status too,” said A. Kaleya, a young man engaged in community development work. An ignored lot, the women rooted out problems one after the other, and emerged as successful entrepreneurs. “We are now treated like human beings,” said 75-year-old B. Chittamma (75) of Kotturu village.

Disregarded women

Decades ago, families and the community ignored their women. “Boozing being common among male members of almost all fishing villages, women didn’t get any respect, but always bore the brunt of alcoholism,” Chittamma told VillageSquare.in.

Despite standard catch, the income was low because middlemen siphoned off the profit. They never paid the fishermen on time. The fisher families had to struggle for survival under economic pressure. Whether it was lack of money or the men’s frustration caused by paucity, women were the victims.

Chittamma came to Kotturu village as a young bride from neighboring Andhra Pradesh. “She suggested mobilizing fisherwomen to end their plights,” Mangaraj Panda of Ganjam-based non-profit United Artists’ Association (UAA) told VillageSquare.in.

Women band together

As a first step, nine groups of fisherwomen, with 20 members in each group, were formed under Kalyani Nari Shakti Sangha in Kotturu. The number of groups soon increased to 14, when women formed five groups in an adjacent village named Arjipalli. The women first fought against brewing of country liquor and succeeded.

Their success in abolishing country liquor production in the villages encouraged the fisherwomen to address their financial problems next. They pooled in money and ventured into fish business in local markets.

The women paid cash immediately for the fish they purchased. They demanded outside vendors and middlemen to pay likewise while lifting the catch. “Though the vendors resisted initially, since they had to supply fish to the markets as per commitment and since our men supported us, they paid up,” said Chittamma.

Federating women’s groups

“This was the game-changer,” said Mangaraj Panda. “With this positive development, women in other villages across coastal Odisha formed groups and they too fought to end exploitation by middlemen.”

There were still some issues. Every group did not have equal access to the market to sell their stock. Prices of fish differed from place to place. In order to bring all the fisherwomen under one umbrella and develop common market linkages, they formed a federation named Samudram.

Started with 68 marine fisherwomen self-help groups (SHGs) having 1,360 members in 1998, Samudram now has 149 SHGs from 52 fishing villages of four coastal districts, namely, Ganjam, Puri, Jagatsinghpur and Balasore. The women conduct business individually as well as through groups.

In order to empower the fisherwomen as entrepreneurs, Samudram organized training sessions for them on hygienic methods of producing dry fish and other fishery-based products. “It opened up new earning opportunities for us and fetched better profit than the raw fish,” K. Eramma of Nolia Nuagaon village told VillageSquare.in.

Samudram has set up fish procurement and processing centers equipped with refrigeration and drying racks for fresh fish, besides weighing and packaging machines at different places. Women own and manage the facilities.

Sustainability

“Even though income was important, catching and selling fish was not all, because the catch was falling day by day,” said Chittamma. “Instead of overexploiting this marine resource, we had to ensure long-term availability.”

“We didn’t know this resource is limited and the catch may fall further, and make us go out of business,” P. Kaumudi (50) of Nolia Nuagaon told VillageSquare.in.“As experts explained the reasons for dwindling catch and actions needed, we changed our fishing practices.” The fishermen started using nets to spare the seeds and fingerlings. They declare no-fishing days periodically.

“Women also took up poultry and goat-rearing as alternate livelihoods during no-fishing months,” Kaleya told VillageSquare.in.This helped them make a living during the fishing ban from November to May, in the coastal seas of Ganjam, Puri and Kendrapara districts for the protection of Olive Ridley sea turtles during their annual nesting phenomenon called arribada.

According to fishermen, government and regulating authorities turn a blind eye to trawlers that violate norms and pose bigger threat to the ocean, its ecosystem and fish population. “Living on the coast and depending on the sea for livelihood, we have to protect the marine ecosystem and the visiting turtles to keep our sea healthy and dependable,” fisherwoman Kaumudi told VillageSquare.in.

Tax hurdle

Samudram now faces the toughest hurdle since the implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST). “As GST mandates 12% tax on packaged dry fish items, prices have increased, and so many of the wholesale buyers have stopped buying,” said Panda.

This has led to a halt in businesses by the groups and the federation. “The fisherwomen work individually now,” said Kaleya. The members contend that they are not educated enough to keep accounts and file GST. Some advised the women to hire a professional.

“It’s not feasible since we are not a corporate business, but make a living out of it,” said Chittamma. “Our progress will stop if community development and livelihood activities do not get tax exemption.”

Beyond business

Notwithstanding the let up in business due to GST, Samudram has not only helped the women earn, but has also empowered them to identify their potential and dream a better future for their children.

The women claimed stopping brewing of country liquor and stopping child marriage as their biggest achievements. They have helped construction of schools in villages to educate their children. “Girls go to college now, whereas they were not allowed to complete primary education earlier,” said Chittamma.

Undergraduate students like S. Puja and A. Kamla of Nolia Nuagaon are proud to be the first girls from their village to have joined college. “Our aim is to pursue higher studies and find jobs,” they said.

The groups have become sources of support to members in time of emergencies. “Samudram and the SHGs helped us overcome the damages caused by two major cyclones, namely, the Phailin in 2013 and the Hudhud in 2014,” B. Mahalaxmi (40) of Huma village told VillageSquare.in.
The report first appeared on May 28, 2018, at the VillageSquare.

Friday, March 24, 2017

After defeating Posco, farmers turn to reclaim betel leaf economy

The formal closure of Posco’s steel plant project in Odisha is seen as a victory of agrarian economy over unwanted industrialization and the betel leaf farmers of Jagatsinghpur are rejoicing, although those who lost their land face new challenges.

In a unique case of victory of the agrarian economy over mineral-based industrial economy, betel leaf farming in the Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha proved to be more dependable and promising than the proposed $12 billion integrated steel plant project planned by one of the world’s largest steel producer POSCO.

The betel leaf stood firm against steel and forced the South Korean steel major out of its Odisha project. POSCO confirmed the withdrawal of its project by requesting the Odisha government to take back the land transferred in its name, according to a statement by Odisha’s Industry Minister Devi Prasad Mishra made on March 18.

POSCO had suspended its the project in July 2015 and, later, by deciding to temporarily freeze the project in 2016. Experts say POSCO had to drop the idea of investment in Odisha as the project couldn’t make any progress over the years due to strong resistance by local people. Since signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Odisha government for the project on June 22, 2005, POSCO faced consistent opposition from local people, many of whom were betel leaf cultivators.

Betel leaf economy

It’s important to realize the economic importance of betel leaf in order to understand the factors behind people’s fight against the gigantic project that would have attracted largest investment by a foreign company to India.

“This is not just a leaf, but the soul of our life and economy and the source of income that any industry can hardly offer to us,” said Ramesh Chandra Pashayat of Govindpur village, who had lost his betel vineyard for the POSCO project.

“After meeting all expenses and making the labor payments, I used to earn around Rs 50,000 a month from my vineyard on nearly 40 decimal of land. This apart, the cashew plants around it fetched me be Rs 30-40,000 in a season. This apart, the mango and moringa trees in the vicinity always supported our food and income,” said Sridhar Swain of the same village, while asking: “Given the fact that I don’t have any formal education, can POSCO or any other industry offer me an opportunity of this kind?”

“This is the reason why we opposed POSCO and wanted to protect our land and the dependable source of livelihood — the betel vines,” Sridhar told VillageSquare.in.

Stronger than steel

According to the farmers, the vineyards raised by the villagers had the potential to employ thousands of people from this locality and even from outside. The daily transaction in the betel leaf business in the area exceeded Rs 5 million.

“The cultivation of betel leaf generated significant income. Destruction through the project development promised little compared to the social, economic and cultural benefits of existing livelihoods,” notes the Routledge International Handbook of Criminology and Human Rights, based on facts collected on the ground.

As per rough estimates, a vineyard raised on an acre (100 decimal) of land usually fetches the farmer a profit over Rs 1 million every year. This means every decimal of land pays the farmer at least Rs 10,000 a year. This economics probably made the betel leaf stronger than steel and a better choice for people.

“While acquiring land for POSCO, the government offered us Rs 11,500 per decimal of land as one-time compensation money. How could a farmer sacrifice the land permanently for such a meager compensation?” questioned Bishnu Das, a betel leaf grower.

Forceful demolition

Despite strong opposition from the farmers, the government didn’t heed to their voice and demands. Going by its unilateral decision in favor of POSCO, the local administration demolished hundreds of acres of vineyards by force. “Some of the vineyard owners were forced to accept the compensation money and vacate their land while at least 32 farmers didn’t get any compensation for their vineyards,” said Nibha Samal, a farmer.

“I had spent nearly 3 lakhs of rupees to raise my vineyard on 60 decimals. The administration demolished it but didn’t pay any compensation money. The list of farmers published by the administration listed many who never had a vineyard while several of the real farmers didn’t feature in the list,” 60-year-old Shiba Bardhan told VillageSquare.in. “We have filed cases against such injustice done to us by the administration.”

“They did not only destroyed the betel vines but also cleaned the area by cutting trees around and made our green surrounding look like a desert,” said Gouri Das, a woman farmer.

Battle won, but challenges remain

Despite all efforts to curb the people’s movement and acquire the land, POSCO is now a lost dream for the Odisha government.  On the other hand, though the people’s movement came out victorious so far, it’s only a lose-lose situation for the people who lost their land, livelihood sources and everything for POSCO.

Their betel vines were demolished with promises that the upcoming project would provide an alternate livelihood. As the industry didn’t come, their livelihood is now completely lost.

“The compensation money they paid has been exhausted by now because we had to live without any immediate employment. The project didn’t happen. We are now reduced to daily wagers. How will we survive with a daily wage of 200 rupees?” asks an angry Gouri Das who has lost his land.

“The government forgot all its promises like an interim stipend, alternate livelihood etc. So, once farmers, we live like beggars today,” said Ramesh Das, who has not only lost his land but also has broken his hand in the conflict between people and the government over the POSCO project.

Those who extended whole-hearted support for the project and submitted their land are living a more miserable life. “The government betrayed us. We surrendered all our resources to see the industry in our area and enjoy the benefits of industrialisation. But the government couldn’t make it possible. Nor has it returned the land to us to continue our traditional economic activities like raising betel vines to make a survival,” said Tamil Pradhan, leader of people who supported the government.

The most pathetic story is of the people who sacrificed everything for POSCO and were kept by the government in a transit colony. “They were the first supporters of the project. But as POSCO decided to freeze the project, we suddenly became a burden on the government. The administration threatened to disconnect electricity and lock the houses unless we vacate the transit colony immediately and return home,” said Chandan Mohanty of Patana village, who was also the president of the POSCO Transit Colony Association.

“The administration even didn’t bother to shift us to our village safely. So, we had to negotiate with people who opposed POSCO project and came back to our village to live our own destiny,” he said with agony.

Sounds of another battle

As the plights of people keep increasing since POSCO has shown indications to withdraw its Odisha project, the discontent among people of the project area is simmering too. “Since POSCO has scrapped the Odisha project and the government has not taken any responsibility of the affected people and the land losers, the lands must be returned to people immediately,” said Tamil Pradhan who also hinted that the affected people and land losers are to hold a meeting soon to decide on the issues and to re-occupy their land.

“If the government was not sure about the intentions of POSCO, why did it take away and ruin our guaranteed sources of livelihood? Even if we get the land wherefrom we shall get money to re-raise our vineyards?” asked Jayanti Pashayat and many other farmers who have lost their land has been acquired for the POSCO project.

Even the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), which opposed the steel project, has announced to start a mass repossession drive in the affected villages.

However, there is very little chance for the land losers to get back their land because, as per Odisha government’s revised policy for land acquisition notified on 7th February 2015, “Land acquired and possession taken over but not utilized within a period of five years from the date of possession shall in all cases revert back to the State and deposited in the Land Bank automatically.”

“The acts of the government are highly questionable because it destroyed the sources of people’s livelihood and couldn’t bring the industry to fulfill its promises of alternate livelihood. Putting people in such a miserable state is purely anti-people and against the very spirit of democracy. We won’t allow this to continue and, also, won’t allow the farm lands to be converted for any other use,” said Abhay Sahu, president of PPSS.

“Shortly, we are going to start another movement against the government and mobilise people to repossess their farm lands and reconstruct their vineyards for the cultivation of betel leaves,” PPSS Spokesperson Prashant Paikray stated.

The sounds of another war to reoccupy the land and revival of the betel leaf economy have started reverberating in the villages surrounding the land acquired in the name of the POSCO project.

This report first appeared on March 20, 2017, at the VillageSquare.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Farmers, daily wage laborers in Odisha badly hurt by demonetization

Farmers and those in rural areas who make a living as daily wage laborers in Odisha have been left stranded by the demonetization drive by the Indian government that has led to a huge scarcity of lower denomination notes

With the sowing season for the winter (Ravi) crop in full swing, Nabarathi Kuanr, 60, of Sudrukumpa village of Kandhamal district in Odisha has no option but to skip a cropping season as he is unable to get seeds and fertilisers from the government and the cooperatives because of the scarcity of lower denomination notes after the Indian government on November 8 declared that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes have been demonetized.

“They say the situation will improve in few days,” Kuanr told VillageSquare.in. “But, is the soil condition going to be the same and conducive for sowing till that time?”
The situation with farmers who have sold their Kharif (autumn) harvest is all the more dire because they all have invalid Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in cash, which is not accepted by private businesses and even at government-run facilities.

“They are not able to avail the limited exchange facility because the banks ask the farmers for documents like Aadhaar or PAN card, which most of the tribal and backward farmers of Kandhamal district do not have,” said Panchanan Mishra, a development activist of Phulbani who works for the welfare of farmers in Kandhamal district.

Hapless farmers

Local cooperative societies and the district cooperative banks do not accept the old currency notes. And many of the farmers do not have accounts with nationalised banks to deposit the cash available with them. So farmers having cash with them are in a helpless state, Mishra told VillageSquare.in.
As somebody’s misery is an opportunity for the cunning others, middlemen have emerged to take advantage of the farmers’ helplessness.

“Because farmers living in remote villages face huge problem to walking long distances and reach a bank to exchange their higher denomination notes, some middlemen take their notes at a value discounted by 20 to 30 per cent,” says Udit Sahu, in-charge of a Customer Service Point in Dungriput village of Koraput district.

Farmers and poor people living in the rural Odisha and tribal hinterland have been severely affected by the demonetization drive because coming to the banks and getting their cash is a huge challenge for them.

Small businesses in rural Odisha are also in distress because consumers do not have the capacity to purchase even essential items due to non-availability of appropriate currency notes. “Transactions have dropped by more than 60 per cent and it has been difficult to make our livelihood,” Kalia Behera of Bhanjanagar village in the south Odisha district of Ganjam told VillageSquare.in.

The situation is even worse for people who live on daily wages. Demonetization has badly hit Basanti Marandi, who hails from the northern district of Mayurbhanj in Odisha and makes a living as a daily wage laborer.

“I don’t know if I am to get work today because labor contractors don’t hire many laborers for their work since the government has decided to scrap 500 and 1,000 rupee notes. Even if I go to work, getting wages is again uncertain because the contractors also are short of 100 rupee notes to pay the wages,” says Basanti while waiting for someone who can hire her for a day’s work.

At least 3,000 laborers gathered at Bhubaneswar’s Nayapali labor point are passing through similar uncertain fate. Migrated from almost all parts of rural Odisha for survival, the state of these laborers is symptomatic of the situation with poor people across the state.

“Only half of us get work these days because there are only selected takers and the demand of laborers has fallen due to restricted availability of lower denomination notes,” Maheswar Pradhan, another laborer hailing from Bhanjanagar village of the southern district of Ganjam, told VillageSquare.in.

Most construction work has slowed since announcement of demonetization. Real estate and infrastructure builders and contractors are unable to accommodate more daily wage laborers in their projects because of the scarcity of lower denomination currencies.

“Making payments to laborers is a big issue. While getting enough amount of 100 rupee notes is still not possible, the laborers are not interested in higher denomination notes of 2,000 rupees because some of them needs to stand in the queue for a day to get 100 rupee notes against it,” says Brundaban Dalbehera, a Bhubaneswar-based real estate developer.

“If the government claims that the intent behind demonetization drive is good, it required more preparedness on the part of the government to manage the post-demonetization situation,” said Ashok Parida, a development activist from Kandhamal.

This report first appeared on November 21, 2016, at the VillageSquare.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Posco steeled for trouble

Posco's proposed steel plant near Paradip in Odisha, India, seems to be plagued by conflict.

Recently, the supporters of the project have taken up to agitation against Posco alleging non-fulfillment of promises made by the company and the local administration. While the movement opposing the project has delayed its execution, this fresh agitation by supporters has become another problem for Posco and the Odisha government.

Angry over the callousness of district administration and the Posco authorities toward their long pending demands, over 1,000 pro-Posco villagers from Nuagaon destroyed a 300-meter boundary wall in the project area on February 16. They also set the temporary camp offices of Posco and IDCO, the state agency to facilitate industrial development, on fire. Most of the agitating villagers were land losers who have handed over their land for Posco's proposed steel plant.

"We gave our land for the Posco project believing the government that promised proper rehabilitation packages and employment to at least one member from each family. It's more than five years since many families have lost their land to Posco. The Posco project is being delayed for many reasons and we people who have sacrificed our land and livelihood sources are only suffering," said Tamil Pradhan of Nuagaon, who is a land loser and leader of pro-Posco villagers.

"We have all decided now that we are not going to allow the company to enter the area and start its construction work till our demands are fulfilled," Tamil added.

Demands unmet

The six point charter of demands put before the Rehabilitation and Peripheral Development and Advisory Committee (RPDAC) meeting of 2010 included assured employment to each land-losing family; separate and enhanced prices for homes, homesteads and agricultural land; monthly allowance for landless laborers engaged in agriculture and betel vines; and project construction works to be done by local people through engaging members of local communities.

"None of the demands are fulfilled. Even though they promised to give unemployment allowance to the youth of land-losing families, they haven't listed anybody," said Prabhat Pradhan of Nuagaon.

The company and the local administration made promise after promise in order to acquire land for the project. The government, through the district administration and its industrial development agency, IDCO, has acquired 2,700 acres of land required for Posco's 8 mpta (million tons per annum) plant. Everybody expected that Posco would fulfill all its promises made to people after the land acquisition. But people's demands have never been met. 

Broken promises

Apart from the apathetic attitude of district administration and Posco authorities, these land losers have been victims of the multi-core chit-fund scam that took place in Odisha.

"As people received their compensation money, this place became heaven for agents of chit-fund companies like Artha Tatwa (AT) and Seashore. With promises of lucrative growth they have taken away all compensation money from almost 90 percent of land losers. People were just allured by absurd promises made by chit-fund companies. Now the scam is uncovered and these people have little hope of getting back their investment money. Their distress is doubled," Prabhat added.

So the first benefit of industrialization has been looted away by the chit-fund companies that allegedly operated in close connivance with the political leadership of Odisha.

It's because of all these reasons that discontent is simmering. In January, a group of supporters sat in protest at Gadakujanga for more than 20 days. Nobody responded. On February 16, pro-Posco villagers in Nuagaon showed their anger by destroying the boundary wall and setting offices on fire. The villagers have now erected bamboo barricades at village entry points to stop the Posco people and government officials from entering the villages and the project area. Now their one point demand is "Fulfill the promises before doing any construction."

Misleading the people

In January, a senior BJD (Biju Janata Dal) leader and the health minister of Odisha Dr Damodar Rout made open allegations against the company and the district administration saying, "A group of Posco's Indian employees and Jagatsinghpur district administration are misleading the people living in the proposed plant site villages."

He also alleged "the people are not being given compensation as per the decision of the RPDAC. While some people get maximum benefit, others do not get the same."

A senior leader of the ruling party BJD and minister in Naveen Patnaik's cabinet making such allegations carries huge importance.

Now, it's not only the members of PPSS (Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti) who are opposing Posco's proposed steel project. The so called supporters are emerging as a bigger trouble.

"We have been opposing the project from the beginning because we know it's a design to grab the land and loot our resources. Now the supporters of the project have also realized that the single agenda of Posco is to acquire their fertile agricultural land and construct a boundary wall. They have started opposing the project now," said Prasanta Paikray, spokesperson of anti-Posco outfit PPSS.

Recent developments have only added to Posco's woes. Once the troubles at the site are over, the biggest hurdle will be mining at Khandadhar. Even though it managed to overcome the legal battle over a Khandadhar mining lease, who knows if Posco won't struggle with tribal groups like Vedanta Aluminium in Niyamgiri.

Posco may be right worry. Khandadhar is inhabited by Paudi Bhuyans, a primitive tribal group, whose land rights are protected in the Indian constitution.

It seems the war for steel is not yet over

The report was first published on March 4, 2014, in the Global Times.