HP farmers harvest rain, get paid under MGNREGA

For a number of farmers in Himachal Pradesh it was a god sent opportunity when the Kullu Police launched an initiative to uproot cannabis from the region and employed them for the job under the Centre's flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). However, the Centre raised objections to the initiative - aimed at curbing the drug menace in the hill state - and it was soon discontinued leaving the farmers jobless in the non-farming season.

The MGNREGA has once again come as a saviour for them as now the state is offering them wages under the central scheme for building rain harvesting structures and water storage tanks in their fields or on the top of their houses.

The scheme has become a hit in districts such as Bilaspur, Chamba, Hamirpur, Kullu and Sirmaur, which are perennially facing water crisis.

"Here,up to 60 per cent of the MGNREGA works are related to construction of the rain water harvesting structures both in the fields and on the roof tops. The areas, wherever these water related works have been done, are setting an example in farm prosperity," says Principal Secretary (Rural development) Sushil Negi.

He cites the example of Darej village near Theog where 450 water harvesting structures have been built, and transformed the economy. The farmers, who used to look for jobs outside the village, are now growing vegetables and cash crops. The rain water harvesting and storage tanks provide them round-the-year irrigation facility.

In a review of the MGNREGA schemes, held two days back, the field officials informed that the trend is fast picking up in districts where farmers either have no irrigation facilities or lack the opportunity to switch over to better means. Bilaspur district a mid Himachal belt region that has perennially remained water starved, tops the list where the MNREGA scheme has made a marked difference to the lives of the locals.

Here also, 60 per cent of the schemes undertaken are related to construction of storage tanks for harvesting rain water.

"The stored water is now also used through sprinklers and drip irrigation by the individual farmers to grow vegetables and other cash crops," confirms director (agriculture) J C Rana.

Other districts, which have taken giant strides, include Chamba with 56 per cent of the MNREGA works done only under water harvesting related schemes. Hamirpur too has become a major vegetable producing district after hundreds of rain water harvesting structures and storage tanks were erected in Sujanpur, Hamirpur, Mewa, Bamson and Naduan panchayats.

Under MGNREGA, families belonging to economically weaker sections are also allowed to get job payments for building roof water harvesting structures in their homes and also on private land. Such families have done notably well in Solan, Chamba, Shimla and Kinnaur.

Contacted, R N Batta, director, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, said: "We have spent Rs 245 crore under the central job scheme till October 2012 as against Rs 219 crore during the corresponding period last year. More than 14,410 works have been completed till date."

Batta also said that the plan to get job card holders to uproot cannabis was discontinued after the Centre's objection as it did not fall under the schemes permitted under MGNREGA. "However, we are providing funds to Kullu's deputy commissioner for utilisation by the forest department and panchayats to reclaim land and go for re-plantation," he added.

Last year, nearly Rs 25 lakh was spent on destroying cannabis. The job card holders, mainly women, were engaged under MGNREGA to remove cannabis.

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