Dr. Mohinder Kumar
First problem faced by villagers in Phaksoo is related to safe drinking water even as water fetched from chashma is not clean, safe and fit for drinking. Piped water supply scheme does not exist in the village. So, no chemical treatment/bleaching and filtering of water were done. If health survey is conducted in village, 40% villagers would be found having ailments of stomach. Villagers have no other alternative or coping strategy to have access to safe drinking water. It fact this problem of safe drinking water exists in the majority of villages in J&K. People in Phaksoo continue to drink water brought from chashma. Normally water from chashma is not impure but in this village chashma water is not clean.
Second problem faced by villagers is related to individual household problems (economic and health) like illness/ diseases (eyes), handicapped persons and indebtedness. There are 30 landless BPL households having average debt of Rs.30000/- per household. One marginal landowning BPL household has debt of Rs.1.00 lakh. Debt is paid by selling away meager plot of land. Otherwise, BPL households survive on wage-labor as they are employed with sand contractors on river Chenab. There is no other organized effort to take care of poverty and indebtedness than individual household efforts, including selling family land.
Third problem of villagers is related to official hassles faced by them. For ‘State Subject Certificate’ they have to make 10-20 rounds of Tehsil. They would be asked to bring one or the other document about which they are not familiar. Numberdar is to first certify and give in writing details about resident status. They are asked to come in the evening or tomorrow; thus protracted process continues. They spend about Rs.2000-3000 each time they require any document/ certificate. Conveyance and “other type of expenses” are beyond their means. For ‘Ward Certificate’ similar problem is faced from block though Ward Member lives in same street corner in the same village.
Villagers have to hear this: “Come again after your list would be prepared; clerk is on leave; officer is on leave; come tomorrow”, etc. Farmers also face similar problem in getting copy of land record from Patwari office. They are frequently sent to zerox shop. They make at least 20 rounds for a task, spending Rs.100 each time and full one month. Making repeated rounds day-after-day is the way out for getting work done. If they go on particular day as called they don’t get work done. But somehow if they happen to miss visiting office (since called) they would be asked why did not you come yesterday? Whether task is done or not, villagers would have to visit office concerned daily until task is completed. Patience is the key to their coping with hassles of repeated rounds made to offices.
Villagers expressed that for self-employment there is good scope for small retail trade activity (‘karyana’ shop). Otherwise there is no other occupation or employment in village except wage-labor tied with sand contractors. People are more interested in wage-labor than own livelihoods for self employment. If a loan offer comes to them from any agency (KVIC or Bank or DRDC) it is refused by them with the excuse (or truth) that they are interested in subsidy without strictness of monitoring of end-use of loan. They have very straightforward and clear entrepreneurial/ economic philosophy: “Take subsidy only if you are not interested in work; no subsidy is needed if you are indeed interested in work”. This simple philosophy sums up in nutshell the dominant perspective of villagers in general why people should or should not borrow and why banks should or should not insist on financing.
There is need for debate and fuller understanding of the issues involved in bank borrowing, question of subsidy, attitude towards work, towards bank loan, etc. It is to be debated whether modern large-scale capitalist banking system that came into being in the world in/around 17th Century can allow itself to be adapted to the pre-capitalist micro small-scale petty requirements of borrowers engaged in subsistence-based activities. While producer-borrowers’ requirements obviously may be petty and small subsistent, banks while lending, unwittingly tend to be compatible with such subsistence-based economic activities which generate no/low economic surpluses and profits. This leads to the problems of poor recovery and failure of repayments. Banks unwittingly turn into sort of institutionalized money-lenders reminiscent of the era of feudal mode of economic system wherein both small producers and village money-lenders classes have been compatible, suitable and adjusted, for hundreds of years, to each other.
Villagers share their word of wisdom hitherto limited to Phaksoo, though it needs to be all-pervasive, according to which there are two types of producers and entrepreneurs. Genuine producers do not need subsidy but only loan; fake/quasi-entrepreneurs need subsidy as they do not feel need for work or production activity. KVIC, for example, has reportedly no takers of loan and subsidy (34%) in this village for Non Farm Sector activities because villagers are not interested in working for self-employment. They are ever ready to be employed on wage basis for individuals as employers. They need wages, not risks or profits. For this purpose, they expect themselves to be ready to work for other persons on wage basis by selling their body power.
Private vehicles (Tata Sumo) ply between Thathri town and Jangalwar. Metadors operate but are considered unsafe and “dangerous” on this link-road, hence not much in demand as people prefer Tata Sumo. From Phaksoo to Jangalwar (5 km) they still need to walk down through fields and pathways, constructed under MNREGA, as they were doing since decades. Kutcha link-road looks like irrigated tract with furrows in ploughed field. This state of link road reflects not only bad condition of road but also marks a statement of irony that while farmers struggle in summer for scare irrigation water, muddy link road looks like irrigated tract during rains. Villagers demanded pucca macadam-built link road for the past 10-12 years as not repaired even once since 2003. Throughout past 10-12 years, entire hilly link-road starting from Thathri main road was in undulating bad condition, with pot holes, mud, ditches and furrows. It is not motorized road in rainy season though originally in 2003 it was constructed as such using stone and macadam. Portion of road from Thathri to Jangalwar (5 km) road is pucca but damaged. Portion from Jangalwar to Phaksoo (5 km) of link road is kutcha and muddy; there is danger of vehicles skidding and slipping.
Villagers feel satisfied that now it’s still better since prior to construction of link-road in 2001 even kutcha road did not exist. There was no direct route from Phaksoo to Thathri town. They used to walk 13 km down the hill via Khanura through a ‘pagdandi’ (narrow footpath): From Phaksoo to Khanpura walking 4 km and from Khanpura to Thathri walking 9 km. Walking involved 13 km in circular way. If they needed to go to Thathri for BDO office or other necessary work, they had to walk 26 km a day (Phaksoo to Thathri and return) via Khanpura. It was a real hardship of connectivity for Phaksoo villagers.
Though villagers are engrossed with the demand for pucca link road, they could express that they needed irrigation facility also. Presently, they divide limited source of chashma (spring) water between drinking purpose and irrigation needs. Considering the situation, PHE Department has allowed them to use it more for drinking purpose through piped Water Supply Scheme. So, farmers’ need for irrigation is unsatisfied and they are dependent on rain only. They have stopped cultivation of paddy and shifted to maize during summer-monsoon season. Pucca drains were constructed but remain dry without supply of water from the only chashma. There is need for constructing ponds on hilly farms by tapping the sources of rain water and snow-melting, which has good potential. Phaksoo represents villages which are low on self employment owner-operator entrepreneurial spirit due to lack of guidance, resources and facilities though high on hard wage-labor spirit.
(Author works for NABARD. Views expressed are personal)