Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra

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Sustainability and Impact

Adivasi - from dense forest to cocrete forestThe work of the organisation has led to much better implementation of the Forest Rights Act and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in Alirajpur district than would have been possible otherwise. The organisation is now preparing a detailed petition for filing in the High Court for even better implementation of FRA. This has provided crucial empirical support for these two legislations which are hotly opposed by the elite in this country who argue that they will lead to greater environmental destruction and waste of scarce fiscal resources of the state. Moreover the huge participation of women in the campaigns of the organisation and in the Panchayati Raj institutions have meant that the public policy of reservation for women in panchayat elections has been given tremendous support.

The organisation also effectively uses the provisions of the Right to Information Act to force information out of the normally secretive administration and also make the latter act on legal demands being made by it.
Thus, overall the organisation seeks to strengthen grassroots democracy for natural resource conservation and livelihood enhancement which is the basic thrust of a rights and needs based development policy. At a global level the United Nations programme for achieving the Millennium Development Goals has also been facilitated by the work of the organisation. Especially the goals relating to reduction of poverty and hunger, environmental sustainability, education and gender equality.

The most important policy impact in the present context is in establishing the viability of communitarian natural resource management by tribals as one of the best methods of climate change mitigation. In fact the organisation is campaigning for resource transfer to the tribal communities for their exemplary contribution to natural resource conservation under such facilities as the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.The organisation Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra is a local NGO while the trade union Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath is a totally membership based Bhil tribal organisation. So these organisations have to depend heavily on partnerships. The most important partnership is that with the people of the area who put in a considerable amount of voluntary work to implement the campaigns of the organisation and also contribute in cash and kind to various programmes. The district administration has fully cooperated with the campaign to implement the MGNREGS and the FRA whenever pressure has been put on it from the people. This is crucial because people’s campaigns tend to flag after some time if results are not visible. The immediate response from the administration to complaints of mal functioning yields results and keeps the campaign alive. Various NGOs and people’s organisations at the provincial, national and international levels participate along with the DGVK and the KMCS in larger advocacy campaigns without which it is not possible to sustain this work for a long time. The most important such grouping is the Campaign For Survival and Dignity.

Sustainability is an important issue and KMCS has been concerned with this right from the beginning. There are two aspects of sustainability – economic and political. The economic sustainability involves the garnering of funds from the local people to carry on the organisational work. The main problem with the Bhil tribals is that they are very poor and so cannot make monetary contributions of a high order. So while the members of the KMCS have contributed their time and agricultural produce, monetary contributions have been low. As the work progressed the costs of travel and fighting legal cases increased and these could not be met by the tribals. Moreover, the personal expenses of the full time activists also increased as they began raising families and these too had to be arranged for. At this stage a debate ensued within the organisation and the upshot of it was that there are some functions that cannot be funded totally by poor people and have to be cross subsidised by the rich. For instance it is universally acknowledged that education has to be funded from public funds at all levels from the primary to higher. While at the primary level education should be completely free there has to be scholarships for the poor at the higher levels. Similarly full time activism for the rights of the poor has to be subsidised to a greater or lesser extent. That is why the DGVK was formed to access funds from funding agencies. Even though initially the experience was not very good later the ropes of running an NGO were learnt and at present the DGVK is able to access the minimal funds required for legal action, travel and full timers’ salaries quite easily. But it has been decided to access only that much funds for expenses that cannot be met from the contribution of the members. This ensures that the activists are always on their toes and working efficiently as otherwise the fund flow will stop.

The more important aspect is that of political sustainability in the face of the prevalent corrupt mainstream political culture. The KMCS addresses this by holding political workshops for the youth and village activists so that a second line is always available to back up the full timers. Moreover, the KMCS also runs a residential school for children so as to produce better educated and committed tribal youth than the government schools which are mostly non-functional.

The most crucial thrust of the KMCS is in reviving the traditional communitarian culture of cooperation of the Bhil tribals. This had begun to decay because of the spread of the martket economy and competitive electoral politics. However, the KMCS has reconstituted the hamlet level committees and these hold meetings regularly to decide on various courses of action. This lively grassroots mobilisation and cooperation is at the root of the vibrancy that is displayed in the working of the KMCS.

Finally there is a larger mobilisation of tribals who are employed in government jobs so as to strengthen the Bhil tribal identity and create a political environment in which radicalism can thrive. The most inspiring achievement in this regard is the campaign to establish that the main Bhil festival of Bhagoria is not a love fest as publicised by the media and the non-tribals but a celebration of the bounties of nature. The KMCS has conducted a counter campaign to show that the elopement of young couples during the Bhagoria festival is only a marginal activity that has been perversely projected by the media while downplaying that fact that the festival is actually an expression of joy by the tribals for the rich support they get for their livelihoods from nature.

Traditionally the tribals lived in small communities which were largely excluded from contact with trade except for some items like salt and cloth. Thus, they developed a system of cooperation wherein they pooled resources to live their lives. There was no interest earning loaning also as the members used to give interest free advances to each other to tide over exigencies. They also had customs that ensured that surpluses that were individually accumulated would be distributed among the community through celebration and feasting. In this way they were able to continue for centuries living at a subsistence level. There was no market economy in the modern sense of the term and so no question of economic viability as costs and surpluses were shared.

However, currently the situation is very much different because the Bhil tribals live in a complex market economy that is global in character. Since this economy is not a steady state subsistence one like that of the tribals but is surplus driven and growth oriented there is pressure on the tribals also to be economically viable in their livelihood arrangements. But the drive for surpluses by the powerful players of the modern economy has led to the natural resource base of the tribals being taken away from them at a pittance without accounting for the social and environmental costs involved in this decimation of forests. This has not only shattered the subsistence economy of the tribals but has also rendered them helpless to effectively participate in the modern economy in which they are present mostly as debt ridden economic entities.

Modern communitarian organisation under the aegis of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath attempts to revive the natural resource base and agriculture while at the same time increase the collective bargaining power of the tribals in the market economy. This organisation also helps the tribals to access better the various development services that the Indian State provides as part of its welfare obligations as a liberal democratic state charged with the responsibility of ensuring transfer of resources from the privileged to the under privileged. It is true that given the forces of economic marginalisation the tribals are not able to wholly meet the economic costs of the organisation process and so some grant funds have to be accessed for meeting the livelihood expenses of the full time activists whose work is crucial to the sustainability of the organisation. But even if this communitarian effort is not viable in standard market economic terms in the sense that the costs are not being wholly met by the beneficiaries, if the positive externalities of the immense social and environmental benefits accruing from this effort to society as a whole are properly accounted for then the benefit/cost ratio is definitely going to be positive because these benefits to society hugely exceed the minimal costs that are being borne from external grant funds. In fact the two organisations Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath and Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra have gained considerable credibility in effectively leveraging external grant funds for achieving immense social and environmental benefits for society in general and the Bhil tribals in particular.

The KMCS has sustained itself for forty years now because of its wide and active mass base and there is no reason why it will not continue to do so in future given the fact that its modus operandi has now become quite well established.