Tag Archives: poverty

Stories of households in poverty [4]: Household of Mathiben Garwal at Kankari Dungari village, district Dahod, Gujarat

Some time ago I studied some households living in multi-dimensional poverty conditions in various states. I spent a considerable amount of time with all the members of the families, and accompanied working members to their places of work. I tried to understand their desperate livelihood strategies, their external environment, their needs for financial services, and their access to social protection. I am sharing some selected stories here.

Fourth of such stories relates to the household of Mathiben Garwal. Mathiben does not know her age, but suggests on persistent inquiry that she may be about 40 years of age. She lives with her husband, Savjibhai, three daughters, aged 16, 13 and nine years, and two sons, aged 20 and five years. She has one more daughter who is married and lives in another village.

 Human capital

Mathiben and her husband are illiterate. Their elder son studied up to third standard and now migrates to Vadodara for work. Younger one is not admitted in the school so far. Daughters never went to school at all.

Dwelling and assets

Mathiben’s family lives in a house made of mud and bricks. It does not have a toilet but has an electricity connection with two plug points. They have bulbs but no fan; have some basic kitchen utensils and six wooden cots. They do not have a cycle, radio or a television. Mathiben cooks on a clay chulha (stove) with firewood collected by her and the children during the day.

Her household has agricultural land but neither she nor her husband knows its exact measurement. She points out this is the land you see[1]. Records show that she has six bighas of land. Her husband’s elder brother expired some year back without getting married so Savjibhai inherited his share also. Their entire land is at a higher level with low soil depth due to continued water and wind erosion. There is no means of irrigation and they grow only maize during monsoon. Earlier when Mathiben was also migrating with her husband they did not have any livestock but they acquired a buffalo when she stopped migrating. They do not have bullocks and hire bullocks from neighbours to till their land.

Livelihood strategies

As the agriculture is rain-fed and there is no other work in the village, Savjibhai migrates to Vadodara to work as unskilled wage laborer on construction sites along with his elder son. His son is also unskilled and seeks casual employment at Vadodara. They remain in Vadodara as long as they keep getting work. Duration of their stay at Vadodara can extend up to five-six months. Sometimes they have to come back in fifteen days only. They however make sure to be present at the time of sowing and harvesting their fields. Mathiben also used to accompany her husband earlier but does not do so any longer, as her health does not permit her to undertake strenuous work in Vadodara. She looks after the agriculture in absence of her husband, tends to the cow and collects firewood with the help of her children. Her husband and the son get INR 100 to INR 120 per day depending upon their bargaining situation. After a month of stay they are able to bring home about INR 1,500 to 2,000 as they get work for about fifteen days on an average in a normal month and have to spend on their food while staying at Vadodara.

Stay at Vadodara is treacherous. I visited their make-shift colony at Vadodara which is on an open space belonging to the Municipal Corporation of Vadodara. Hundreds of tribal families migrating from different villages share that space with about 25 families from Kankari Dungari village. The adult members leave for work or in search of work during the day, while their children play in the dirt and garbage of the colony. Elder children also look after their younger siblings, feed them during the day and collect firewood from far away places for cooking. None of these children goes to school which is anyway neither feasible nor possible in the given conditions.

All the families live in a small patch of land enclosed by polythene and jute sheets.  Even the roofs do not have any hard material.  The entire structure is supported by the wooden sticks. The structure is obviously not suitable for a human habitation in any weather. There is a municipal water connection for one building under construction on one side of their colony, which is used by all the families staying there to meet their drinking, bathing and cleaning needs. The colony does not have any toilet or bathroom facilities and the inhabitants use one corner of the land plot for these purposes, which makes the entire place even more inhabitable. Women have to finish off their morning routine while it is still dark. They also have to take bath hiding themselves behind their houses in the open.

None of the families staying in the area has been issued ration cards and they have to depend on the local shop keepers for procuring their daily provisions. They do not avail of medical facilities at government hospitals, as according to them whenever they tried to do that, they were made to run around from pillar to post, and did not get any medicine even after wasting much of their time. They go to the private clinics when they fall sick and have to spend a large part of their earnings on their healthcare. Their unhygienic living conditions appear to be one of the major reasons for their falling sick.

Food security and vulnerability

As their agricultural land produces only one crop, it does not meet the food requirements of the household. According to Mathiben that is precisely the reason why her husband migrates along with her son. Maize produced at the field suffices for the household food grain requirements for about eight months. Sometimes when there is an emergency they have to sell maize after harvesting and purchase later at more than double the price. Mathiben had to resort to selling maize recently when her younger son got sick. She did not have money and her husband and the elder son were in Vadodara. She had to spend about INR 2,000 on his treatment.

As two members of the household migrate to earn and the family has access to the subsidized Public Distribution System (PDS) food, there has been no episode of hunger in recent past.

Other consumptions and expenditures

Agricultural land only produces maize and hence Mathiben needs to purchase other provisions such as lentils, vegetables, cooking oil, sugar, salt, and spices from the market. She buys smaller quantities of the provisions at the village itself. For larger quantities she travels to Limkheda paying INR 7 as one-way fare.

They buy clothes for children and themselves during the marriage season and spend about INR 2,000 at a time. The major expense is however on chandlo, which is about INR 10,000 every year. Other expenses include buying shoes, soap, hair oil, tobacco and alcohol. They did not report any substantial expenditure on entertainment although the elder son gets to watch some movies in Vadodara.

 Significant events and income shocks

Mathiben’s household did not experience any major income shock in the recent years. She managed the marriage of her daughter without having to borrow money from outside.

Financial needs

Whenever the father and the son come back from Vadodara, they have cash and for want of any suitable savings mechanism they keep it at home. Their expenditures are generally small and frequent, excepting on medical care and purchasing food grains in bulk. Practice of keeping cash at home thus addresses their liquidity requirements but is very risky at the same time, as the nature of construction of their house does not make it a safe place for stashing cash. Being illiterate, the formal savings mechanisms, especially the banks, intimidate them. Even if they overcome their inhibitions and deposit money in the banks, high frequency of their transactions will entail significant loss of their working hours. They therefore need a savings mechanism where they can frequently deposit and withdraw small sums without having to waste their working hours.

They also need to borrow money at regular intervals for various purposes. What was however remarkable is that the villagers do not want to talk about their debts. They also do not view their debt in totality. Debt does not seem to be an independent entity but appears to be subordinated to its purpose. Inquiring about debt in itself generally evokes a negative response. It is only when the question is about the amount of debt for a particular purpose; the amount of debt is revealed but is limited to that particular purpose. Unless one exhausts all the purposes, the situation of indebtedness is not understood totally. Indebtedness situation of a household starts becoming clear only after the first interview, and its fuller assessment requires at least two to three subsequent interviews. Loans may be taken against some collateral or without collateral. Lending rates for collaterized loans range from 36% to 60% per annum, while there were instances of some non-collaterized loans attracting an interest rate of 150% per annum. At least one instance was reported with an interest of 25% per month on a loan amount of INR 2,000 availed for medical purposes.

The most important purpose for obtaining a loan is a medical condition followed by meeting the expenses on chandlo[2], agricultural investments and the expenses on life-cycle events such as marriages and deaths. Mathiben’s household spends about INR 10,000 on chandlo every year. Whenever they do not have cash to pay chandlo, they borrow it from outside. Mathiben had borrowed INR 1,500 just before my first visit to her household to pay for chandlo, which was organised by her immediate neighbor to construct his house. She however did not need to borrow any money for the marriage of her daughter and it was managed with the amount of chandlo and the dowry her daughter received. She normally borrows money from the shopkeepers at Limkheda. Responding to a question as to why she does not borrow from a bank, she mentioned that banks give loans against the jewellery as collateral and she does not have jewellery to offer to the banks. She also felt that obtaining a loan from a bank is a big hassle and the banks make people run around. Their situation may however immensely improve if they have an access to a reliable and reasonably priced credit mechanism.

The earning members of the household travel far for their work and are also engaged in employments not providing them with any security. They therefore need to be insured against accidents and death. The household also needs suitable insurance services providing coverage to their health and assets. As Mathiben’s husband and son migrate out of their village, they need reliable remittance services so that they do not have to personally come back to the village for delivering money to her.

Access to financial services and microfinance

A self help group (SHG) was earlier functioning in the village that had membership in her locality. She was however not a member of the SHG as according to her, only old women were made members. She further mentions that the SHG could not function for a long time as its leaders took away the savings of the members. All its activities were controlled by Mohanbhai[3], husband of the president, as he was the only one who was educated (till class 7). The SHG received a subsidized loan for buying a grain grinder which was installed at the president’s house. She promised to serve the members at half the usual rate but did not keep her promise.

Savjibhai was persuaded in 2002 by an agent of life insurnace corporation (LIC) at Vadodara to purchase a life insurance policy carrying a premium of INR 900 per annum. He deposited the amount for two years but did not continue it as he could not arrange for the premium amount timely. In the process he lost out INR 1,800 in addition to the insurance cover. Whenever he and his son have spare money at Vadodara, they keep it with their employers as it is not safe to keep it at their place in Vadodara. They get it back when coming back to their village. Sometimes they lose their money (they remember losing it on three occasions earlier, when the employers refused to accept that the money was kept with them) but keep following the same mechanism for want of any alternative[4]. They do not explore the option of saving their money in a bank at Vadodara as they feel that no bank will open their account at Vadodara. On probing deeper, Savjibhai admits that he would not want to open an account at Vadodara as he does not know and trust anybody there other than his employers. Being illiterate, he can only transact with people who he trusts and not on the basis of some pieces of paper. Savjibhai is however willing to put his savings in a bank if it is available in his village and the product suits his requirements. He feels comfortable with the post-office as he knows the postal personnel in the neighboring village Dantia. He however wants either the post-office to readjust its working hours or collect his savings at his doorstep.

Social protection programmes available to the household

Mathiben’s household has been issued an Antyodaya ration card. She is accordingly entitled to receive 16.7 kg wheat flour and 16 kg rice on payment of INR 86. According to her, she only gets 5 kg of rice. Moreover, the wheat flour she gets most often smells foul and is infested with insects. She feeds it to her buffalo. She has an option of buying 3 to 4 pouches of edible oil but is able to procure only 1 or 2 pouches, as she does not have enough money to buy it at one go. One pouch costs her INR 45 at the PDS shop, while it costs about INR 90 in the open market.

Mathiben, her husband and her son have been issued job cards under national rural employment guarantee program (MGNREGA) but they had got no employment till the time of my last visit to her household. Four items of work were sanctioned in the village under the programme and were ongoing during my visit to the village but they all related to digging wells at private fields. The concerned field-owners themselves decide who to be employed for work. They therefore usually employ people from their own households and their neighbors. Mathiben mentions that ‘the employment goes to the family members only; who will call us’. She is not aware of the provisions of guaranteed employment under the program.

Additional financial needs generated by social protection programmes

Mathiben is not able to procure her entitled quantity of edible oil for want of money and she has to buy the additional quantity at almost double rate from the open market. Thus she needs access to small credit to be able to claim her entitlement in totality.

 Leveraging on their social capital to meet financial needs

Mathiben could marry off her daughter without having to borrow money from outside with the help of chandlo amount she received from her community members and the dowry she received from the groom’s family. She is also not unduly bothered about arranging the money for the marriages of her other children unlike her counterparts in UP. Institution of chandlo thus takes care of the financial needs for the lifecycle events concerning her household.

[1] Most households in tribal villages of Dahod district live near or inside their fields.

[2] Chandlo: a community financial institution in tribal areas of Gujarat.

Life-cycle events such as marriages and deaths entail large amounts of expenditure but in most cases it gets managed with the money collected through a custom called chandlo vidhi. Chandlo is monetary contribution that relatives and other community members make towards the expenditure a household is incurring on a funeral, marriage, or other social occasions. Although such a custom is prevalent in other parts of India, but it is always at a much smaller scale. Here, the contribution may be as high as INR 15,000 on a single occasion.

Chandlo seems to be the community’s response to a deficient financial-especially savings and credit-infrastructure, based on trust and mutual dependence. It harnesses the social capital of the localized tribal community to facilitate all its members to adequately celebrate social occasions. In effect, it works as a savings mechanism to be encashed at the time of need for a lump sum. If some households do not have a social occasion for about five-six years, they organize a chandlo with some other purpose, mostly construction or upgradation of their house, to recover the money they contributed as chandlo to other households.

 It has, however, started getting oppressive now with conditionalities such as the recipient having to pay double of the amount she received for her chandlo, to the chandlo– organizing household. Such amounts over a period of time become very large and many households have to resort to borrowings to be able to give chandlo. At least five relatively better off respondents reported that they migrate to earn money to be able to pay chandlo. If it was not for chandlo, they would never migrate. Continuously increasing amounts of chandlo also raises the levels of expenditure incurred on their life-cycle events. Some resistance seems to be building up against the oppressive forms of chandlo.

[3] He has since expired. Interestingly, nobody in the village was willing to speak about the SHG and Mathiben was the first person to provide some information that was corroborated by the others in subsequent interviews. The closure of the SHG seems to have generated substantial amount of suspicion and distrust within the otherwise largely closely-knit village community, and they do not wish to acknowledge or talk about it.

[4] They are vulnerable to be cheated in other ways too. They are illiterate and save different amounts irregularly. In case of taking their money back after four-five months, it would be difficult to accurately calculate their total savings. A dishonest employer may be tempted to take advantage of this situation.



Stories of households in poverty [3]: Household of Meena Devi at Barakheda village, district Kanpur Dehat, Uttar Pradesh

Some time ago I studied some households living in multi-dimensional poverty conditions in various states. I spent a considerable amount of time with all the members of the families, and accompanied working members to their places of work. I tried to understand their desperate livelihood strategies, their external environment, their needs for financial services, and their access to social protection. I am sharing some selected stories here.

Third of such stories relates to the household of Meena Devi, 47, who lives with her husband Mulchand, 50, and seven children. Sons are 26, 13 and 10 years old, while daughters are of 27, 20, 18 and 14 years. Only the eldest daughter is married. However, she remains sick and has been left by her in-laws at Meena’s place. Meena belongs to Katheriya, one of the Scheduled Castes.

Human capital development

As Meena was born and brought up at a town, Kanpur, she has studied until eighth standard and is the one of the most educated women in the village. In fact, none of the village women of her age and above is literate. She wants to educate her children properly but is unable to do that for want of money. Two younger sons and the youngest daughter currently go to the government school in the neighboring village. The villagers are not happy with the quality of education at the school and if they could afford, they would like to send their children to the private school located about 3.5 km from the village. Her daughter, currently in eighth standard could not recite multiplication table beyond five and could not read her Hindi textbook properly. None of her other children has studied beyond eighth standard. Nobody in her next generation has developed or appears to be developing their human capital sufficiently to rise beyond poverty despite the fact that she is one of the most educated women in the village.

Dwelling and assets

Meena’s family lives in a ramshackled one-room mud house. They have very basic utensils, mostly made of aluminium as they are the cheapest. They cook on a clay chulha (stove) with firewood collected by the children during the day. The house does not have an electricity connection or a toilet. They have four wooden cots in the name of furniture. Her husband owns a bicycle which he uses for commuting to his workplace.

Her father-in-law owns five bighas of ancestral land. He has five sons including Meena’s husband. They do not own any means to till the land and have to hire a tractor for the purpose. Hiring a tractor costs INR 300 a bigha. If they have money, they cultivate the land, otherwise it remains barren. Credit is not easily available and that is why the entire patch of land was left barren during Rabi harvesting season immediately preceding my visit. Moreover, productivity of the land has gone down over the years due to indiscriminate use of high-yielding variety of seeds, irrigation, chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the area. The land now needs more fertilizers and water to maintain its productivity. There is never enough money available at the household level to apply fertilizers to the field even when they are able to manage the money for tilling and seeds. Whenever there is yield from the fields, it is distributed among all his sons equally.

Her family used to have a cow but it died about one and a half years back due to diarrhea. She was also keeping goats and had two goats and a he-goat. They all died about six months back again due to diarrhea. They spent about INR 300 in their treatment but they could not be saved. She has now stopped keeping livestock.

Livelihood strategies

Her husband works in a gas plant at Panaki, about 15 km from the village. He was hired through a contractor and gets INR 80 per day for week days. He is not paid for weekly offs and has no security on the job. He is not covered under any labor regulations and represents the massively growing tribe of informalized workers in the formal sector of economy. He commutes to his workplace on his bicycle and has developed various ailments including swelling in his testicles. The doctors are suggesting for an operation but she does not want him to be operated at a government hospital. She and the other villagers feel that the patients are not cared for in the government hospitals. She does not know the expenditure involved with such operations at a private hospital but estimates it to be somewhere between INR 10,000 and INR 15,000. In spite of being hard-pressed for money, people do not want to take risk with their health for obvious reasons, and prefer private hospitals and the doctors over the government ones. They feel that if they have money or connections, they will be treated well at government hospitals. Private doctors behave much better with them and are more responsive to their queries and concerns. It evokes a feeling of trust among them and they think that they are treated better at private facilities. Most respondents’ initial remarks on the issue always centered on them not being cared well in government hospitals and not on not being treated well. Not being treated well always comes during detailed discussions.

Meena is however scared for him as he is very weak and may not be able to cope well with the operation. Arranging for that kind of money is a major issue as they do not have any access to the cheap credit. Moreover, after the operation, he will not be able to ride the bicycle for at least six months, according to the doctors. That would effectively cost him his job and that the family can hardly afford, especially when they need money in lump sums to get their children married.

Her elder son also goes to nearby towns of Panaki, Kalyanpur and Kanpur in search of work, as there is no employment opportunity in or around the village, and agricultural land is also not available on sharecropping. Meena is concerned for him as she feels that he is very naive and gets cheated while receiving his wages. He is also unable to negotiate for higher wages. He never gets more than 10 to 12 days of work and never earns more than INR 1,000 a month. Her other sons and daughters also work as agricultural laborers during harvesting season that gives them food grains to last two to three months every year. The younger ones collect 70 to 80 kg of potatoes from different fields. Traditionally, after harvesting the potatoes, the landowners allow others to come to their fields and take away the leftovers.

Meena’s parental house is at Kanpur and she stayed there before her marriage. Her father passed away and her brothers left her mother alone. She got her hand fractured and Meena had to stay with her to look after her. As they needed money, Meena started to look for some work based on the basic skills of midwifery and massaging the new mothers and their children that she had acquired as part of the customs of her caste. As she continues to get some work she is staying with her mother at Kanpur. She is living at Kanpur since October 2008 and normally gets work in the neighborhood, but sometimes needs to go to faraway places also. This way she earns about INR 1,000 to 1,500 per month. Her children and her husband continue to live at the village. She comes to the village for about two-three days in each month to meet her immediate family.

Food security and vulnerability

She has a below poverty line (BPL) ration card entitling her the public distribution system (PDS) food grains (wheat and rice) to meet the requirement of her household for about fifteen days through a payment of INR 205. For the remaining days, they buy it from the market whenever they have money. However, it is never bought at one go due to other necessary expenses on bathing and washing soaps, oil, spices etc. staking their claims on the household income. Food normally consists of potato curry with either rice or chapattis. They sometimes cook green vegetables, when Meena comes back from Kanpur with some money. Lentils, they feel, have become costly and are cooked very rarely, while it invariably used to be part of traditional Indian diet of the poor not very long ago. She had last cooked lentils about one and a half months preceding her first interview and had not cooked non-vegetarian food for more than a year.  There are at least seven to ten days in a month for six to seven months in a year when they do not have anything to eat with chapattis and eat chapattis with salt. Before she shifted to Kanpur, there were times when she did not have any food at home at all and had to sleep hungry for three to four days at a stretch. There has been no episode of hunger for last one year. The diet is however chronically protein deficient and must be very detrimental to the health of growing children. They never had milk to drink; only milk they have is with tea. They purchase 250 ml milk for INR 5 every day to make tea for entire household. Ghee (purified butter) or butter is out of question.

Other consumptions

Clothes for the children are made once in two years in such a way that half of them get it in one year during Diwali and the other half during next Diwali (October/November). Her husband also gets his clothes once in two-three years. She has never purchased a saree after marriage and manages with the sarees she gets[1] during social functions at her household or her parental household. She had got six sarees during her daughter’s marriage.

They have to buy food grains, vegetables, salt, spices, sugar, tea leaves, cooking oil, soaps on a regular basis. The quantity of purchase depends on the availability of money. She and her husband chew tobacco and that also entails expenditure.

Financial transactions: Significant events and income shocks

One of her younger daughters fell sick about ten years back and they had to spend about INR 3,000 on her treatment. They borrowed money from her uncle without interest. That amount has since been repaid. They had to incur major expenditure three years later for the marriage of her eldest daughter that cost them about INR 25,000. As they were unable to give dowry and gave only five utensils as symbolic dowry, they could not search for an employed boy. They still needed to spend towards various customs and the feast for the villagers. She borrowed INR 20,000, out of which INR 5,000 were borrowed at the rate of 120% interest per annum, INR 7,000 at 60% per annum, and remaining 5,000 were borrowed from her SHG at 24% per annum. She could manage to borrow INR 3,000 without interest. She is repaying the interest bearing loans first but has not been able to repay it totally. An amount of INR 10,000 of the marriage loan is still outstanding.

Her daughter is however not treated well at her in-laws’ place. According to her, whenever she goes there, she comes back ill and Meena’s family has to spend money on her treatment. She has got a five year-old son. When she was pregnant, she became very sick and was sent to Meena’s house. Meena had to spend INR 2,000 in her treatment, out of which INR 500 were provided by Meena’s brother.  Now she is pregnant again and has again been sent to Meena’s place. She has now developed asthma and a valve of her heart has got shrunk. She is admitted in a private hospital at Kanpur and an amount of INR 7,000 is already spent on her, including an amount of INR 2,500 that Meena had saved for the marriage of her second daughter. Remaining amount she borrowed at Kanpur on the goodwill of her mother as she has already exhausted her channels of informal credit.

She does not know how she will manage the money to marry off her other children, some of whom are of marriageable age and others are fast approaching that age.

Financial needs

Meena’s household requires money to meet their regular consumption needs, provide for the contingencies- particularly those related to health, build some productive assets as the household currently does not own any productive asset other than the small patch of land that it shares with other four households, and for the marriage of their six children. Moreover, they live in a house that barely provides them with shelter and is dangerous as it may collapse during monsoons. They therefore further require funds to reconstruct their house. Some of the required funds they can generate by saving regularly over a period of time as the household has at least three sources of cash inflow in addition to casual agricultural work by children. They thus require a savings mechanism that is not only reliable but also has provisions for smaller but frequent transactions. Moreover, it should not impinge on their working hours as that would amount to reduction of their incomes. Some needs, especially those related to the life-cycle events however cannot be met by savings alone. They therefore need reasonably priced credit to avoid chronic indebtedness. In addition, they require frequent access to smaller credit for their agricultural investments, to meet their emergency medical expenses, and smoothen their consumption during the periods of lean incomes.

Expenses on health related issues are major constraints on their finances. A part of it, especially that related to major expenses requiring hospitalization may be better managed with provision of reliable and broad-spectrum health insurance. Meena’s husband could very well get his testicles operated without spending much from the household kitty, if the household was covered under health insurance. It would have also ensured that he is operated at a competent hospital rather than at any hospital in order to save some money. Moreover, the household could have avoided much of her daughter’s hospital expenses if she was covered under health insurance.

It is also essential for them to be covered under insurance provisions for whatever productive assets they happen to own. Their cow would have fetched INR 10,000-12,000 before it died. Its death reduced the value of household assets by such a big amount at one stroke. Moreover, the household lost a productive asset as sale of its milk was contributing to the household income. Similarly death of goats further impoverished the household.

As the earning members travel far for their work and are also engaged in employments not providing them with any security they need to be insured against accidents and death.

Access to financial services and microfinance

An NGO, Shramik Bharti, organized a self help group (SHG) in the neighboring village, Dhool, and Meena along with two other women of Barakheda joined it. The SHG required her to deposit INR 20 per month. The SHG allowed to her to borrow on two occasions; INR 1,000 to provide treatment to the youngest son and the goats, and INR 5,000 for her daughter’s wedding. Both loans carried a rate of interest of 24% per annum. She continued with the SHG for about two years. After her daughter’s wedding, she was in a bad financial shape and hence could not repay her loan timely[2] or make monthly deposits to the SHG and had to leave the group. She has however totally repaid her SHG loan. Leaders of the SHG were two Brahmin women from Dhool. She was not aware of the details of her SHG or the NGO. She was also ignorant of what was happening to her SHG savings. She however feels that SHGs are beneficial for the people as they provide an access to cheaper credit to people like her. On deeper probe, she stated that she would have been happier with better savings products and more incidents of loans with flexible repayment schedules. She also felt insulted within the SHG when she failed timely repay her loan installments. Currently she does not have any bank account or any mechanism to save her money.

Another SHG was initiated under the village self employment scheme (SGSY) at Barakheda by one Deepu Dwivedi (again a Brahmin from a neighbouring village) in 2005, consisting of one woman each from twenty households in the village, including Meena. They deposited INR 20 per month with Deepu for eleven months but started distrusting Deepu when they did not get their bank passbook. They all decided to stop their savings and asked Deepu to refund their money. Some women were able to extract a part of their money from him but seven women including Meena could not get back any amount as her husband is considered to be very docile. This incident has made the villagers skeptical and may not trust any such initiative easily in future. In addition, they were deprived of subsidized credit available under SGSY.

Agents of Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) are very active in the area, and being local they are able to convince the people to purchase life insurance policies of LIC. Moolchand, Meena’s husband, had purchased an LIC policy about ten years back when he was working at another plant. He continued to pay the insurance premia for two years, but then his contractor started troubling him and his payment became irregular. As a result, he could not deposit the subsequent premia and lost his premium amount as such policies have a lock-in period of three years. Any discontinuance of a policy before three years does not entitle the policyholder to any refund. Moreover, he was also deprived of his insurance cover.

For cattle insurance the villagers thought that the provision of such insurance is only for the cattle, which are bought on government loan or under some subsidy scheme of the government.

Social protection measures available to the household

Meena’s household has BPL ration card entitling her 20 kg of wheat, 15 kg of rice and two kg of sugar on payment of INR 205 per month, which is sufficient for about 15 days consumption of the household. However she says that in spite of the provision of monthly distribution of the food grains and sugar, the PDS shopkeeper does not distribute it every month and in collusion with Gram Pradhan (elected head of the village) sells it in black market. They get their quota of food once in two months. Her ration card though bears the entries of distribution of food grains every month. She alleges that at the time of next distribution he makes entries of the previous month and as they desperately need whatever amount of subsidized food they can get. This was independently corroborated in almost all the interviews in the village, but there was no consensus for how many months in a year the shopkeeper black markets the subsidized provisions. The shopkeeper however denied these allegations

Her household is also supported to construct a latrine under total sanitation campaign and they were given construction material worth INR 1,500. It was however not enough to construct a roof and provide doors to the structure and hence is not usable. Needless to say, they were all falling apart because of disuse. As material was not enough, the structure also has only one brick deep foundation. The soak pit is also very small with a depth of one foot. With such small soak pits, the latrines may not be of much use even after their full construction. According to her, she would have preferred completing the construction and using it if the amount of shortfall was available to her as cheap credit.

During my visit an inner street was being laid in the village under national rural employment guarantee program (MGNREGA) and her son was engaged to work as a laborer. She was happy that he was getting work in the village itself and did not have to go out of the village. No woman was however employed for the work.

Additional financial needs generated by social protection programmes

In spite of the PDS shopkeeper’s allegedly dishonest ways, she acknowledges the role subsidized food towards food security of her household. This however creates a demand of INR 205 on the day of distribution. Sometimes when they do not have that amount and cannot arrange for it, they have to forego their entitlement of the subsidized food. This used to happen very often when she was not working at Kanpur. She feels that she would be much better off if she has an access to smaller loans for shorter durations. . This way she would also be in a position to complete the construction of latrine that may reduce her medical bills in addition to huge inconvenience of going out to defecate in the open. Such loans would enable her to utilize the subsidies available to her without burdening her much as the loans would be small and for shorter durations. That is precisely the reason that she cannot access such loans through informal channels as interest income against such loans would be small and unremunerative for the lenders.

Leveraging on their social capital to meet financial needs

Meena strongly feels that the extended family-based social protection systems have considerably weakened over the years. The extended family helps only when a household has capability of earning money. She says if she goes to ask for even one kg of flour, she has to listen to the other person’s taunts.

Their social capital networks however are useful in meeting the expenses especially on marriages. Everybody attending the marriage is required to contribute a small sum, sometimes as little as INR five, while bigger amount is expected from near relatives. Such contribution builds up to be a substantial amount as 200-300 people normally attend a marriage.

[1] As a part of ensuring clothing security to women, there is a custom, called bhaat, according to which their brother would get a saree for them at social functions, especially during marriages either at their in-laws’ place or at their parental household.

[2] As other loans through informal sources carried higher rates of interest, she chose to repay them first.

Stories of households in poverty [1]: Narayanidevi Kamal at Pratappur village, district Kanpur Dehat, Uttar Pradesh

Some time ago I studied some households living in multi-dimensional poverty conditions in various Indian states. I spent a considerable amount of time with all the members of the families, and accompanied working members to their places of work. I tried to understand their desperate livelihood strategies, their external environment, their needs for financial services, and their access to social protection. I am sharing some selected stories here. The names mentioned here have been changed to protect their anonymity despite their express consent for using their names.

First blog in this series tells the story of the household of Narayanidevi Kamal, 42 and her husband, Ramlal, 45. They have have two daughters and two sons. The elder daughter is married and lives with her husband in another village. Narayani lives with her husband, one daughter, 12 and two sons, 13 and 15 years. They belong to Kamal, one of the Scheduled Castes.

Human capital

Narayani and her husband are illiterate. The elder son left his studies after studying till class five, while the younger one studied till class eight. Narayani says that poor people cannot educate their children, as it is a choice between hunger and education. The younger daughter is however studying in class seven. Her elder married daughter is illiterate, so is her husband. Her next generation is thus also deprived of even basic education and is becoming part of the ever increasing unskilled labour force. Worse still, they are not getting sufficient food and therefore their capability to perform unskilled, physical work will also remain limited.

 Dwelling and assets

Narayani’s family lives in a mud house. The household has two wooden cots and a few aluminium utensils. It does not have any other consumer items, not even a bicycle. Narayani cooks on a clay chulha (stove) with firewood collected by the children during the day. The house has no toilet or electricity connection.

Ramlal has one brother, and between the two, they have one bigha of land. It is wasteland and nothing grows there. His brother has a pair of bullocks which he also uses to plough the land taken on sharecropping. The household is raising two goats on half-share basis[1].

 Livelihood strategies

They have been traditionally sharecropping on the land of others and that is why his brother keeps a pair of bullocks. Narayani mentions that nowadays, there is no land available in the village on half share; it is only on one-third and one-fourth share. They are also required to share on the investment, so not much is left with the sharecroppers. ‘We have to do all the hard work without getting much in return. But we are helpless before our stomachs.’ They have been sharecropping two bighas of land on one-third share for last two years, which supports their family for two to three months in terms of their food requirements. They want to have more land on sharecropping as both of them along with their sons can manage up to ten bighas of land, but no landowner is willing to share land on one-third share with them. At the time of my last interview, Ramlal was in the process of negotiation for sharecropping one more bigha of land on one-fourth share.

Ramlal and the sons seek wage labour in and around their village to meet the household needs. They cannot keep away from the village for the whole day, as the agricultural fields need their continued presence in the village. They get work when there is a construction activity or some landowner needs extra hands on his fields. Narayani also wants to work as a casual labourer, but as there is so little work for men, how and where would women get the work, wonders her elder son. She, however, gets work during the season of sowing, transplanting and harvesting the crops, and along with her sons and the husband she earns food grains that meet the food grain requirements of household for two to three months.

The situation had however become worse towards the end of my stay in the village, as Ramlal fell down from a tree he had climbed up to chop tender branches as fodder for the goats. He probably broke his ribs and was in immense pain. He was not in a position to work for more than a month at the time of my last visit to the household. He had got absolutely no treatment for want of money.

 Food security and vulnerability

The livelihood strategies adopted by the household imply that there would be times of food deficiency, and that is what it faces for about two to three months ever year at different points in time despite the PDS support. On certain occasions, they get to eat only once in a day. Chapattis are normally eaten with potatoes as other vegetables are very rarely purchased and lentils are luxury for them. Potatoes are also not available for three to four months in a year and then it is salt that is consumed with chapattis and rice. At the time of my last visit (25 March 2009), the household had wheat flour to meet the requirements of only two days, and had no rice, potatoes or vegetables. With no work available and no incomes forthcoming, Ramlal had gone to his sister’s place to borrow some money for food and explore if she can get him the treatment. Narayani was not expecting him to be back for next four-five days and did not know where she would be getting the food for her household from. On probing a little deeper, she said that she would first try to borrow from the neighbours but was not very hopeful as they are also on the same boat. She was also planning to request for some food grains from her landowners on loan. She always attempts to repay such borrowings as fast as possible, especially with the PDS subsidised food, and the cycle goes on. It gets broken only when her husband and sons get employment for some prolonged periods. On being asked what she would do if she does not get food from her neighbours etc., she says that it can only be answered by God. He will make some arrangement.

 Other consumptions and expenditures

It is very difficult to spare money for the needs other than food and serious medical emergencies. Her daughter and the younger son have two sets of clothes that were made using their scholarship amounts. She has only one saree which was given to her by her married daughter as it was old and useless for the daughter.

Significant events and income shocks

The household did not have any money and hence married off their elder daughter without any celebration and dowry, whatsoever. Because of this she had to be married to a person, who is illiterate, does not have any assets, and seeks work of casual nature requiring no skill.

 Financial needs

As the household does not have money or access to suitable credit services for agricultural investments, Ramlal borrows it from his landowner and repays one and a half times of it at the time of harvesting. Thus, effectively they pay an interest at the rate of 150% per annum on such borrowings.

Narayani did not have money for Ramlal’s treatment after he got injured. She did not borrow any amount as she was not sure if she would ever be able to repay it with an interest rate of more than 120% per annum[2]. After he fell down, he did not eat anything for first fifteen days. He started eating a bit afterwards that but cannot sit at all. He could not be taken to the government hospital that is located about six kilometres away, as the money could not be arranged for the transport. Even otherwise they were not very keen on the government hospital as she says they only prescribe some medicinal tablets to be purchased from the market. They also call the patients to the hospital very frequently, thus further increasing the burden of expenses on the patients’ household.

The accident has rendered him unable to perform any kind of work for more than one month. It is quite likely that he may be permanently disabled and the household loses out on one working member. Thus the eventual cost of unavailability of credit may be enormous not only in economic terms but also in terms of Ramlal’s wellbeing. The household therefore desperately needs an access to reasonably priced credit to sustain itself. It also needs insurance cover in terms of health, life and accidents, as that would have ensured Ramlal getting good and timely treatment. The household also requires a savings mechanism that is not only reliable but also has provisions for smaller but frequent transactions so that a part of Ramlal’s wages can be saved whenever he gets work and receives wages.

 Access to financial services and microfinance

She has not been a member of any SHG, as there is no SHG in her locality and no woman from her locality has ever been an SHG member. She feels intimidated with the thought of attending an SHG meeting with so many ‘big’ people. She is also not sure if she would always have the mandatory amount to save on the day of the meeting every month.

 Social protection programmes available to the household

Narayani has an Antyodaya card that entitles her 15 kg of wheat (@ INR 2 per kg), 20 kg of rice (@ INR 3 per kg), 2 kg of sugar (@INR 14 a kg), and kerosene (@ INR 11.50 per litre)  per month. Although she economises on kerosene and very seldom buys sugar, she tries to buy entire amount of wheat and rice every month that meets her fifteen days requirement at least. If she does not have money, she tries to borrow it from the neighbours. Though sometimes she does not have money to buy her entire quota and buys whatever she can.

Ninety-one cards for subsidised ration were issued in her village, Pratappur, consisting of 62 BPL cards and 29 Antyodaya cards. Village Development Officer (VDO), a local level government official, visited the village and announced that he had been instructed to renew the cards and convert nine BPL cards into Antyodaya cards. Interestingly, this was not based on any assessment of the people’s conditions in the village. Amarsingh, a panchayat member, enquired from him about the criteria to be followed for the purpose and was informed that the cards to be downgraded should belong to either very poor or widow-headed households. When he asked the VDO to hold a general meeting of the villagers and decide the issue in the meeting, the VDO told him that his higher ups had instructed him to only consult the Gram Pradhan. The situation was allegedly exploited by the Gram Pradhan, and the panchayat secretary- a village level government functionary. In addition to the nine BPL cards converted into Antyodaya cards, they fraudulently issued four BPL cards and six Antyodaya cards to different households in exchange of an amount of INR 300. This resulted in an increase in the total number of cards. There are now 57 BPL and 44 Antyodaya cardholders in the village.

The subsidised food is however being received for only 91 cards (53 BPL and 38 Antyodaya), the same being the official figures. The PDS shopkeeper, therefore, could not meet the demand of food from the new (forged) cardholders. Amarsingh and his friends then persuaded the shopkeeper to reduce the delivery of food to the regular cardholders by 5 kg and distribute thus spared food to the new cardholders as ‘after all they are also poor; so what if their cards are forged.’ This has however reduced the food entitlement of households like that of Narayani, further worsening her situation.

Narayani’s household has also been provided with the financial support under IAY for the year 2008-09.  According to her, total subsidy paid to them is INR 25,000. They were aware of their entitlement of INR 35,000 for the purpose but believed that out of the sanctioned amount, 4,000 to 5,000 INR had to be spent on paperwork and other formalities, and the remaining amount of INR 5,000 to 6,000 was taken away by the panchayat secretary and Gram Pradhan. In fact, no amount should be spent on any formality and they should receive the entire sanctioned amount. Moreover, construction of a single room without a toilet costs more than INR 40,000 according to the villagers’ estimates. Her house is therefore incomplete as she does not have any means to arrange for the remaining amount to complete the house.

NREGA job cards have been issued in the names of her husband, her son and herself. However, none of them has got any work under the programme so far, while they were among the people who had been issued job cards at the very first instance. Only two items of works have been taken up under the programme in the village- earthwork to fill and level a land depression, and brick-laying on one of the inner streets in the village. A portion of both works was reportedly got done by hiring tractors. As there is no provision of employing machines for work under the programme, the people were reportedly shown to have worked on paper. Since it is cheaper to accomplish works through machines rather than through human beings, the difference in cost was allegedly pocketed by the Gram Pradhan and government functionaries. The Gram Pradhan, on the other hand, alleged that the Junior Engineer in charge for approving the works under NREGA was demanding for 10% commission on the total expenditure to be incurred for the works under the programme. Consequence of all this was that out of the ninety people having NREGA job cards only twenty-one had ever got any employment under NREGA. As against a hundred days of guaranteed employment every year, only two persons could get a maximum of thirty days of work during last three years. No woman in the village was given any work under NREGA.

Narayani and her family members have not opened their accounts in the bank to receive their NREGP wages, as they do not have minimum money required to open such accounts. She plans to open the accounts only when she gets the work and receives her wages.

 Additional financial needs generated by social protection programmes

The subsidized food through the PDS requires her household to arrange for more than INR 100 on the day of its distribution. Sometimes when they neither have that amount nor can arrange for it, they have to forego their entitlement of the subsidized food. Narayani feels that she would be much better off if she has an access to smaller loans for shorter durations. Such loans would enable her to utilize the subsidies available to her without burdening her much, as the loans would be small and for shorter durations.

Subsidized housing programme also creates a need for cheaper and easily accessible credit services. The housing subsidy is of no use until the house is totally constructed and worth inhabiting. This subsidy can have an impact if and only if the recipients are able to arrange for additional financial resources, for which the poor recipients like Narayani need an access to reasonably priced credit products. For want of such access, she has not been able to complete the construction of even one room and use it.

Leveraging on their social capital to meet financial needs

Realizing the impossibility of his treatment at his home, Ramlal’s sister called him to show him to the doctor. According to Narayani, his sister is also in a similar economic situation but is trying to help them through her limited means. While leaving he had also planned to borrow some food grains from her. Narayani is waiting for him to come back with the food grains but is not sure if his sister would be able to help them with food grains.

Her daughter also helped Narayani by giving her an old saree, and that is the only saree Narayani has and keeps wearing. However, her son-in-law is also as poor as is Narayani and thus cannot help her much. His household does not have land or any productive asset. He seeks work in his own village and does not go out, as he is illiterate; ‘what will he do outside?’ wonders Narayani.

[1] There is system of ‘share-raising’ of livestock, where a household adopts an animal immediately after it stops breastfeeding on its mother at the place of its owner. It is either sold when it matures and the sale proceeds are shared equally between the owner and the raiser, or if one of the parties wants to keep it, the other party is paid the half of market share.

[2] The interest rates are always higher in cases of such emergencies as the creditors know that the borrowers are too desperate to be able to bargain


Why healthcare is so expensive for disadvantaged households in India

Anirudh Krishna of Duke University has been studying households escaping the trap of poverty in India. His analysis reveals that a large percentage of people crossing the poverty line tend to fall back below the line after some time. According to him, one of the principal contributing factors for such backward movement is the households’ expenditure on healthcare.

Food in-take patterns for below poverty line (BPL) households indicate that their food is highly deficient in protein and fats. As majority of their routine expenses of is on food they try to reduce the expenses by avoiding costly lentils- an important source of protein for Indian households, and cooking oil. This situation prevails in rural areas as well. In rural areas such households are either smallholder farmers or landless laborers. Smallholder farmers in order to maximize utility of their small farmlands mostly cultivate their staple food, such as wheat, paddy, maize and/or potato, to avoid episodes of hunger. Thus, even when a household owns a small patch of farmland, it still needs to purchase pulses and cooking oil from the market.

They generally admit cooking lentils only during festivals. They are happy if they get a chance to eat non-vegetarian food, a rich source of protein, even once a year. Consumption of milk, another source of protein and other nutrients is also almost absent. Even when a household possesses a milch animal, most of the milk is sold off to generate cash, leaving just enough for preparing tea. Protein deficiency in their diet is quite detrimental to mental and physical health of especially the children[1].

High levels of malnutrition along with physically risky occupations, unhygienic living conditions, and compulsion of defecating in the open render members of households, living in poverty, extremely vulnerable to various ailments and accidents. This requires them to spend a large proportion of their earnings to meet their medical expenses.

There are two additional reasons for the enormity of health expenses beyond the aforesaid factors. First reason relates to the general preference of the households in poverty for private medical practitioners to the public medical services. They find public health centers distant and unresponsive to their needs and conditions. They also find procedures within such centers time-taking, insensitive and intimidating. A large majority of such households reports having difficulty with understanding the written instructions. They are forced to spend a large amount of time without being attended to, whenever they go to public health facilities. They feel that the treatment from private medical practitioners is faster and more effective. They do not have to wait for long hours to get treated and the doctors are willing to see the patients at their homes. This way they do not have to lose their wages if somebody in the family is to be shown to a doctor. Moreover, according to them, the private doctors behave in a nicer way. That itself evokes a feeling of trust and they think they would be treated better by such doctors than at the government hospitals. Private doctors are also open to accept deferred payments, which suits the people not having ready cash at the time when medical contingencies arise.

They have to therefore spend a much larger amount on their healthcare than would have been the case if they were going to government health facilities. In addition, most of the private doctors they go to, are non-qualified or under-qualified. In villages most of such ‘doctors’ have no medical qualification. They generally learn their craft while working as unskilled medicine dispensers in medical stores (pharmacies) in nearby towns. While working in such stores they acquire knowledge of basic medicines, and most importantly, get to know the names of broad-spectrum and very potent antibiotics. After working there for about three months to one year they set up their practice in a village. There they take advantage of the villagers being largely illiterate and uneducated. They overmedicate their patients and charge heavily for those medicines. Some of them even dispense medicines without their wrappers and it becomes difficult to know what medicines they are dispensing, and whether expiry dates for such medicines are not over.

As they do not have knowledge or skill to diagnose a disease they invariably administer high doses of painkillers and broad-spectrum antibiotics in all the diseases which makes the patient feel better. This is also a reason why the villagers consider their treatment to be more effective than the government doctors. In all such cases, the private doctors charged heavy amounts. This however harms the patients much more than their diseases in most cases as highly potent antibiotics destroy their immunity and high dosage of pain killers are associated with several side effects. This creates a vicious cycle that further exacerbates their medical bills.

It is important to point out here that public health facilities are extensively used by the relatively influential people and local elite especially in rural areas, which reduces their medical bills substantially. This phenomenon of poor running much higher medical bills than relatively affluent in the same geographical spaces further exacerbates the prevalent inequality among different economic classes and misdirects the state spendings on health.

The other main reason for high expenses on medical care on part of the deprived households relates to an almost complete absence of their relying on home remedies that have been an important part of Indian heritage. Such remedies are in fact demonstrably more effective than allopathic medicines especially in cases of relatively simpler diseases such as common fever, common cold, some pains and aches, and common stomach disorders. The remedies are generally food-based and herbal and have no side effects. It is a paradox that while more and more affluent Indians are getting back to home remedies due to increased awareness of limitations of allopathy, people from disadvantaged sections are almost totally discarding such options. Part of the reason for this is that home remedies take time in making their impact (although, as they mostly work on the causes of the ailments, they are more effective in completely getting rid of the medical conditions), while allopathic medicines very quickly subdue the symptoms of the disease.

There is also a sociological reason that goes back to the time when attractively packaged and seemingly miraculous allopathic medicines were accessible to only a small section of rich Indian households. A large section of deprived population had absolutely no access to this modern miracle. This is the reason why this section of population desperately grabbed the opportunity when there was a possibility of getting allopathic medicines. This is also the reason why there is always some pride associated with the assertion by the disadvantaged households that they never resort to home remedies and the patient is always shown to a doctor even when there was some fever, a minor cold or cough. Moreover, due to the similar reasons, injections and drips are always considered superior to oral medicines by such households even when these are much costlier. I have witnessed several medical practitioners who would put all the patients on glucose-sodium chloride intravenous infusion as soon as they enter their clinics irrespective of the ailments they are suffering from. Needless to say, they charge exorbitantly for this procedure.

[1] Malnutrition along with lack of quality education as discussed in an earlier blog-piece substantially reduces the value of demographic dividend for India.

India Post: A Story of Missed Opportunities [Part IV: Causal Factors Rooted in Structural Issues]

In the first three parts of this blog story I discussed three major opportunities that could have rejuvenated India Post and given a big boost to rural Indian economy while improving economic wellbeing of a large section of Indian people. India Post could not exploit those opportunities due to the structural issues that face the organization. Fourth and concluding part of this blog story focuses on some such relatively important structural issues.

Dynamics of policymaking within India Post

My own experience of working with India Post at various positions and the interviews with the higher officials suggest that much of the policy decisions within India Post are taken by the bureaucratic arm of the organisation contrary to the general theme of politics administration dichotomy in the literature on public administration. The dichotomy is premised on the idea that policymaking is the role of the elected politicians while the bureaucrats’ job is to implement the policies, and both the institutions should restrict themselves to their prescribed areas of activity. However as Bohte (2007: 811) points out that ‘a true dichotomy between politics and administration has always been and will most certainly continue to exist only as an idealised fictional construct’, and the bureaucrats are often required to take policy decisions. Bureaucrats have been observed to be having much bigger role in policymaking than the legislature in countries like Germany, Japan, and Russia (Moloney 2007). In India too, the bureaucrats at the topmost levels have been actively involved in policymaking (Maheshwari 2005). N. C. Saxena, a former top Indian bureaucrat, points out that ‘[in India] the civil servants have been given the task of initiating the policy and taking it through, whereas most politicians are totally indifferent to what the policy is’ (discussion quoted in Taylor 2005: 753).

Mosher, a much respected scholar on public administration, argues that a majority of policy decisions are initiated and influenced by the appointed officials and not by the elected politicians. He further argues that such decisions are shaped by ‘their capabilities, their orientations, and their values,… [and] these attributes depend heavily upon their backgrounds, their training and education, and their current association’ (Mosher 1982: 1). Maheshwari (2005) points out that the top bureaucracy in India is mostly drawn from urban middle and upper middle classes and from a certain number of universities, and is influenced by its own value system while designing policies. The feeder cadre for the top bureaucrats in India Post, Indian Postal Service (IPS) officers, is no exception to this observation. The IPS officers are also extensively trained with induction as well as in-service trainings. An analysis of the training modules (India Post undated) reveals that the training contents are largely technical with an overt emphasis on operational issues. The trainings appear to be more suited for India Post as a business organization rather than an important public institution. The training does not provide the officers with the information and tools to analyze the larger socio-economic issues facing the poorer segments of the population, and the contribution India Post as a public institution can make towards addressing some of these issues, especially in rural areas where it has an extensive presence.

Continued colonial traditions within the management of organization further ensure that the higher management never has an opportunity to learn actual operations that take place in a post office. Indian Postal Service officers are always positioned at an arm’s length from day-to-day operations. They are trained to ‘inspect’ and ‘visit’ actual postal operations but not to participate in managing their actual delivery. This results in their not entirely understanding the potential of this great institution and failing it whenever opportunity arrives to bring it to development mainstream of the country.

 Neo-liberal discourse, NPM and Post-NPM

Predominance of neo-liberal discourse in the government after the 1991 reforms in Indian economy is also a contributory factor for excessive focus on the profit-making and treating India Post more of a business entity rather than a State institution. When organisations such as the World Bank advocate larger role of the post-office and make suggestions for India Post to come out of the red, it invariably involves strengthening India Post’s capabilities to provide infrastructural support to other sectors of the economy (World Bank 2005; 2002). Such prescriptions do not consist of measures aiming to engage it towards the pro-poor development of rural areas and promote the government agenda for the rural areas, for which it is one of the most suitably located organisations among all the State agencies.

The neo-liberal discourses are also accompanied by the efforts to reform public administration across much of the democratic world, collectively referred to as the New Public Management (NPM) and its successor post- NPM. Such reforms seek ‘managerial and economic solutions to complex problems’ within public administration (Jun 2009: 161). However as Denhardt and Denhardt (2003) point out that such solutions are inadequate to address the larger issues involving the people such as public good, social justice and ethical considerations. These solutions are also found wanting while dealing with ‘[s]ocial factors, such as delivery and access hurdles as a result of caste-based discrimination’ in Indian context (Jayaram 2009: 784). Argyriades (2007: 18) is severely critical of ‘one size fits all’ approach of NPM, among other things, and argues that the NPM has failed to adequately deliver on its promise. The NPM however largely informs policymaking within India Post as is evident by the response of India Post to the changing realities around it.

 Urban bias and the bias towards business and corporate sector

Mainstreaming of neo-liberal discourses explains another bias towards the business and corporate sector while developing premium products and value additions on the existing products, ignoring the competitive disadvantage facing the organization while serving such a set of clients. This is perhaps based on the assumption that the additional revenues to reduce the recurrent losses can be generated through the business community only. This approach tends to ignore the business opportunities requiring the utilization of about 89% of its network available in rural areas. Such business opportunities may not only generate additional revenues for India Post, but may also help reduce rural-urban and rich-poor divide in Indian society as is testified by various social enterprises across the world. Although it is important to tap the business potential in urban areas where a large part of India Post’s capital investment is concentrated, there needs to be a balance between the urban and rural-centric efforts within its business strategy. Such a need is particularly acute in view of the fact that India Post does not enjoy a competitive advantage in urban sectors.

Aforementioned dynamics of policymaking within India Post also explains the overt urban bias in decision-making within India Post. In addition, the recruitment procedures do not provide an opportunity to the IPS (and Indian Civil Service, in general) aspirants to be tested on subjects such as social work, development studies, international development, rural management and rural development, study of which could have given them an understanding and the sensitivity to explore and engage their organization towards serving the poorer population in rural areas.

The urban-bias is further explained by the fact that due to their work conditions, the top bureaucrats have very little functional exposure to rural areas, rural economy, social and business networks, and power structures in rural areas. A sizeable portion of top bureaucrats has never had any opportunity to work beyond metropolitan cities.

 Leveraging rural and semi-urban networks

Due to a pronounced urban bias in the policymaking within India Post, a majority of new and premium services introduced by India Post in financial as well as non-financial sector can have their clientele in urban areas only. They cannot be introduced in rural areas, as they do not have rural market. The semi-urban and rural networks cannot support new sophisticated products or value additions on existing mail products due to the fact that such needs do not exist in the rural and semi-urban areas. It can however support appropriate products in retail and financial sectors where there are vast amounts of unmet needs and demands. Due to this reason, new products and services that have been relatively successful in generating revenues for India Post have been the ones that have leveraged the rural and semi-urban networks (Priyadarshee, 2015).

Such outcomes naturally follow from the structure of the postal network particularly in rural areas. The postal personnel for rural post offices are largely drawn from the local communities and therefore enjoy trust of the people. Post offices are suitably located to deliver financial services and social protection measures due to their proximity to the rural people, and their personnel being known to the local people. Additionally, India Post, being a government department, is in a better position than similarly placed agencies such as banks and telecom companies to coordinate with other government departments offering social protection. By involving post offices, state governments and the government of India may also be in a position to avoid extra expenditure on creating new financial service channels or new delivery mechanisms for social protection programmes.

This will however need post offices to reach out to the deprived households, which will be far easier for them than any other network due to their geographical proximity with such households. This will, in turn, require postal management to be trained in the methodology of community engagement, and understand the necessity to  do the same. Significant public resources have already been invested in creating and sustaining such mammoth organizational capital and it will not be in the interest of Indian people to let India Post remain under-utilized.


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  2. Bohte, J., 2007. Governmental efficiency in our time: Is the “What” really more important than the “How”? Public Administration Review, 67 (5), 811-816.
  3. Denhardt, J. and Denhardt, R.B., 2003. The new public service: Serving, not steering.E. Sharpe: Armonk.
  4. Jayaram, S., 2009. Postreform India. Public Administration Review, 69 (4),783-785.
  5. Jun, J. S., 2009. The limits of post-New Public Management and beyond. Public Administration Review. 69 (1), 161-165.
  6. Maheshwari, S. R., 2005. Public Administration in India: The higher civil service. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  7. Moloney, K., 2007. Challenges in growth and development: Lessons from comparative bureaucracy: Today as yesterday. Public Administration Review, 67 (6), 1083-1086.
  8. Mosher, F. C., 1982. Democracy and the Public Service. 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press.
  9. Priyadarshee, A., 2015. Towards reducing poverty in India: A case for mutually leveraged and reinforced delivery of microfinance and social protection. Saarbrucken, Germany: Lambert Academic Publishing.
  10. Taylor, M., 2005. Bridging research and policy: A UK perspective. Journal of International Development, 17 (6), 747-757.
  11. World Bank, 2005. Report on seminar, transformation of India Post for Vision 2020, June 15-16 [online]. Available at: http://www.worldbank.org.in/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/SOUTHASIAEXT/INDIAEXTN/0,,contentMDK:20568412~menuPK:295589~pagePK:141137~piPK:141127~theSitePK:295584,00.html [Accessed 28 December 2009].
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Double Whammy: Impact of Seasonal Migration from Tribal Villages in Gujarat, India

Phenomenon of Human Migration

Migration has been one of the major livelihood strategies even after the Homo sapiens started settling down for agriculture and livestock-rearing.  Migration in the current era may be caused by “pull” as well as by “push” factors. Although pull factors have been an important aspect of industrialization, the industrialization has also given rise to social, economic and environmental phenomena that push a section of the population out of their traditional habitation at various locations. Thus push migration to a large extent represents the helplessness of migrant households in managing their livelihoods in the face of changes in their larger social, economic and environmental space at their native habitation. Push migration may be seasonal or long-term depending upon the kind of work the migrants engage in, and the needs and family circumstances of the migrants.

Tribal Migration Within Gujarat

A large number of tribal people located in the villages in eastern part of Gujarat migrate to urban centres such as Surat, Vadodara and Bharuch to work as construction labourers or as casual labourers in various factories. Some of them also migrate to Kathiyawad region to work as agricultural labourers. Kathiyawad is a semi-arid zone in the western part of Gujarat, experiencing a boom in agriculture due to increased availability of water and abundance of land owned by a small section of population. In most tribal villages, there are very few households that can sustain themselves while remaining in their villages. Migration is seasonal and the migrant villagers return to work in their own fields at the time of sowing and harvesting. They also come back to celebrate their main festivals, Holi and Diwali.

Most villagers start migrating at the age of 15-16 years. When they get married, their wives also accompany them until such times when they have children. After childbirth some of them remain in the villages to look after the children, but a majority of them keeps migrating along with the children. Some unmarried young women also migrate to work along with their extended family members.

Migrants face tremendous hardships at their destinations. They do not have proper accommodation, sanitation or drinking water facilities. They are vulnerable to all sorts of abuse and exploitation. In cases where the children also accompany the parents, they cannot attend schools and thus remain caught in vicious cycle of poverty and migration.

The villagers do not want to migrate, but do so due to the push factors such as lack of livelihood opportunities in their villages. In the informal discussions at the migrant-originating villages, all the villagers, without any exception, portrayed migration as a necessary evil in their present situation. They admitted that they would not migrate if they can meet their basic necessities in their village itself.

On the other hand, people representing the interests of the industrialists and landowners, employing them on their migration, consider the phenomenon of migration very important for the development of Gujarat. In an informal interview, a senior level government official working in the area, and responsible for the development programmes of the local people, suggested that no development programmes should be undertaken in the area as they are likely to reduce the impact of the factors pushing the people to migrate from their villages. This in his view would be detrimental to the economic growth of “his” state.

Push Factors Responsible for Seasonal Migration of Tribal People within Gujarat

Tribal villages in Gujarat were almost egalitarian at the time of Indian Independence but witnessed stratification due to government irrigation schemes and other agricultural interventions. Such interventions favoured households traditionally occupying lowlands who became relatively richer. The relatively richer sections in all such villages then monopolized political power in the villages on introduction of Panachayati Raj system. Due to their political and economic power they were also able to access disproportionately large share of government welfare schemes. This phenomenon keeps on widening the gap between relatively rich and the poor in the villages. The poor when they are unable to fend for themselves in the villages start to look for opportunities outside and migrate out. However due to several cultural and traditional issues, and also lack of more durable livelihood opportunities they are forced to keep coming back to their villages and migrate only seasonally. This however further deprives them from taking advantage of developmental efforts taking place in their villages.

As nobody in the area is happy to migrate, the people who are relatively better off do not engage in seasonal migration. The people who migrate are the ones who cannot meet their most basic expenditures while staying on in the villages. Emergence of labour migration in the region owes its origin in assetlessness of the households, distressed living conditions, indebtedness and inability to meet necessary expenditures on health and lifestyle events such as marriages, childbirth and funerals, and ‘chandlo’[i]. Unequal wealth and income distribution, scanty resource flow to rural areas for employment generation and agricultural development further compound the situation. Other manifested reasons for seasonal migration include rapid growth of population, increased pressure and over crowdedness in agriculture, dispossession of the lands, indiscriminate deforestation, and decline in cottage industries and handicrafts.

Consequences of Migration: The Double Whammy 

a. At Macro Level

The process of agricultural development is selective in terms of area as well as in terms of people. To start with, only some areas develop agriculturally, as only some areas have favourable economic as well as non-economic conditions. In these selected areas also, only selected groups of people derive maximum benefits from the process of development. Migration of labour, which is initially caused by this situation, also helps this selected process of development. Firstly, they migrate to developed areas and contribute to the further development of these areas and secondly, by entering into the labour market with different terms and conditions, they get lower wages, which adversely affects the position of local labour. The consequence of such migration is that it does not help the process of development of backward areas. On the contrary, it creates serious problems in the area of origin and in the area of destination.

Another consequence of the labour migration may be understood in terms of social response to such migration. Local labourers feel threatened by the influx of the migrant labourers and this creates tension between the two. On the other hand, local employers who advocate ethnocentricities for establishing and strengthening their enterprises prefer migrant labourers as they prove to be cheaper than the local labourers. Thus the upper class prefers the “sons of soil” theory for themselves but not for labourers, which further complicates the social response to the migrant labourers.

It is generally assumed that migration brings chances for upward mobility but the reality on ground does not support this assumption in most cases and particularly in case of seasonal migration. Most of the seasonal migrant labourers happen to be either small or marginal farmers in their native villages. On advent of the market economy, such farmers are normally unable to take advantage of free market forces and are forced to migrate to urban areas for their survival. They start as seasonal migrants and finally settle in cities as slum-dwellers. They gradually cease to be peasants in the old system and become wage labourers in the new economic system. Thus, landowners in the old economic system become wage labourers in the new system of production. Migration might be bringing prosperity for a few ‘adventurous’ entrepreneurs, but it brings misery for labour.

b. At Micro Level

Majority of migrant labourers are illiterate or semi-literate and thus are exploited due to their ignorance. They also lack any kind of organisation and are unable to protect themselves from being exploited either by their employers or by the contractors hiring them. They are thus normally faced with situations of lower wages than the market rates, non-payment of timely wages or sometimes non-payment of wages at all. There is no provision of housing and they are forced to stay in the most unhygienic conditions without any facility for sanitation. Such lack of most basic amenities causes extreme inconvenience to the women migrants and makes them vulnerable for various diseases. Children accompanying their parents are unable to continue their studies and thus such seasonal migration keeps perpetuating the poverty among its adherents. Even when they stay in the villages they are unable to continue their studies due to the lack of parental supervision who remain out of their villages for a major part of the year.

It has been observed that the migrant workers are not able to participate and thus take advantage of the most of the anti-poverty programmes. They cannot participate in the asset-based programmes in the areas of the origin, because: (a) they have a poor risk bearing capacity to take up self-employment work, and they find wage employment outside more attractive than self-employment at home; and (b) the programmes are not easily available to them.

Migrant workers cannot take self-employment under such programmes in the areas of destination also as they do not belong to the place and therefore cannot be identified as poor under developmental programmes in those areas. In short, anti-poverty programmes are so planned and implemented that they are not able to involve migrant labourers in a significant way. Thus migrant workers have poor chances of bettering their lot through these programmes.

Seasonal migrants are also unable to take advantage of public distribution system especially when they migrate with their entire families, as there is no provision of issuing ration cards to them at their destinations.

Thus, the seasonal migrants are caught in a vicious circle where they lose out on whatever opportunities are being evolved due to social protection and other programmes launched by the state for betterment of their lives, while at the same time working on below-market wages and unacceptable levels of facilities.

They are further unable to take investment advantage of whatever savings they could accumulate while on migration due to lack of financial services in their villages. They are in any case unable to take advantage of availability of financial services at their migration destination as not only those financial institutions are not inclusive but also because they are not trusted by the migrants with their hard-earned money.

Moreover, migrant villagers do not consider it safe to keep the saved money with themselves, as they live at their worksites only. They keep it with their employers. While coming back to their villages they leave the money, surplus of their needs, with their employers. This mechanism makes them vulnerable to the risk of losing their money. Being illiterate, they can be easily manipulated while rendering the accounts for their money, especially when the larger amounts are accumulated than they are used to. Moreover, their families are also deprived of their savings at the time of their untimely deaths as nobody, other than them, knows the exact amount being kept with such people. Many instances were reported when people felt that they had not got back the entire amount either belonging to them or to their deceased relatives.

They do not want to open a bank account at their work place as they do not know the people there. They cannot trust even the banks as they do not know what is happening on the paper due to their illiteracy.

Additionally, lack of suitable remittance services forces them to travel back to their villages for delivering money to the remaining family members in the villages. They also occasionally entrust their friends or relatives travelling back to their villages with such remittances. Such arrangements for remittance prove to be very costly for them not only in terms of travelling costs but also in terms of loss of wages during the periods of absence. They are also not comfortable in using the post-office money-order service, as they are hesitant to approach the post-offices at their migration destinations. They are also unable to trust the people and the paperwork at an unknown place due to their inability to comprehend the contents of such papers.

Migrants are generally excluded from the Self Help Group (SHG) mechanisms, as they are not available in the villages at the time of formation of the SHGs and regular monthly meetings. Thus, again, they are deprived of an extremely important local institution being built with the support of public money.

Most importantly, the tribal migrants also face severe cultural shocks as they are forced to work in non-tribal areas where they face racist discrimination of the worst kind. Migrants are unable to celebrate any of the lifestyle events or festivities for which they need to come back to their villages. Thus migration is not only detrimental to their physical well-being it also severely limits their cultural and emotional well-being.

[i] Chandlo is monetary contribution that relatives and other community members make towards the expenditure a household is incurring on a funeral, marriage, or other social occasions. Chandlo seems to be the community’s response to a deficient financial-especially savings and credit-infrastructure, based on trust and mutual dependence. It harnesses the social capital of the localised tribal community to facilitate all its members to adequately celebrate social occasions.