Word from the experts
Joe Madiath, Founder and Executive Director, Gram Vikas
Can you present Gram Vikas?
Gram Vikas is a rural development organisation. ‘Gram’ in most Indian languages means ‘Village’ and ‘Vikas’ means ‘Development’.
Our flagship programme is ‘MANTRA’ (Movement and Action Network for Transformation of Rural Areas). This programme starts with protected Water supply and Sanitation for entire habitations, without exclusion of any family. MANTRA ensures 100% of coverage of all families for all times to come in any particular habitation. It uses only sustainable water sources and all operation and maintenance costs are met by the community.
Gram Vikas also works in the field of renewable energy. We have built nearly 60,000 family size biogas plants. We are in the field micro and nano hydros, using small hill streams to generate electricity for small habitations, especially of indigenous people. We use unutilized or under utilized forest seeds, which have oil content to produce bio-diesel. We work with solar photovoltaic lighting to replace kerosene for lighting in homes in the evenings. Now we want to reach 100,000 families living in un electrified habitations with solar LED lights in the next three years. These will mostly consist of indigenous families.
We work in the field of education and health. In natural resource management we work with land and water, improving the productivity of land. We undertake watershed development activities in degraded land so that fertility, water retention and water table in these areas can improve.
Skill training is done very systematically by Gram Vikas. We train daily wage earners and landless people in masonry, plumbing, stone dressing, wire bending and house painting. These courses are short and not very expensive to conduct and you invest in a category of people, who with one or more of these skills will graduate to another level of self confidence and greater earning ability.
Your thoughts on energy for rural populations:
For lighting in the evenings and night, they use kerosene and often being too poor to purchase kerosene, they burn wood to see their way around their huts. For these people we have to think of alternate power. We have found that micro or nano-hydro power is a reliable source. The possibility, however, of having situations, where a perennial stream flows and a drop can be caused is quite small. Nevertheless, it is the best form of alternate power as it is on tap 24 hours a day, where as all other sorts of renewable energy is available for a few hours and may not be available for productive economic uses.
We use bio-diesel, solar energy, biogas and biomass gassifiers. In a few village, where nothing else was feasible, we have used solar electricity for pumping drinking water. It is, unfortunately very expensive.
At present we have decided to bring solar LED lighting systems to about 100,000 homes. In most cases, these families (mostly indigenous) will take loans from a bank, guaranteed by Gram Vikas to purchase these lights. These bank loans will be available to people at interest rates that are applicable to the general populations. We do not encourage micro-finance loans, where the interest rates are anything between 24% to 48%. It is a pity that it is the poor who have to pay such atrocious interest rates, where as the better off and rich get loans at 10% to 11%.
In which context do you develop your programme?
Gram Vikas mostly works in the state of Orissa in India. Per capita income-wise and Human Development Indicator-wise, Orissa is the poorest state in India, though in natural resources, minerals, forests, rivers fertile land etc it is perhaps, the richest state in India. It is the poorest, who are indigenous people or aborigines, called scheduled tribals, who are all sitting on top of these minerals in mostly forested areas. As these lands have always been vested with the government, in collusion with private companies, often multi-nationals, these people have been displaced from their habitations and the environment they were used to. Some token compensation is given to them. A people who are not used to money, run through what they get in little time and many become destitute, while others lead a marginal existence.
Orissa has 23% of its population comprising of tirbals. Another 17% are dalits or scheduled castes, who were the erstwhile untouchables. Though untouchability is banned by the constitution, it is widely practiced. These people are also extremely poor. 40% of the population of Orissa comprising of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are extremely poor. A family earns about a dollar a day for about five people to live!!
How do you try to involve the population that you are working with?
Our approach to rural development is that we start with community development, where all people in a habitation benefit. Either all or none. All for one, one for all. Our cardinal principle is 100% inclusion without any exception. At present we start with sanitation and water.
Over 80% of all diseases in rural areas is caused by poor quality of drinking water, which most often is caused by faecal contamination. There are no toilets in these villages and open defecation is practiced by people, which pollute all water.
All families contribute to an endowment of US$ 22. They make bricks, break aggregates, and collect sand. All daily wage earners are trained in masonry and plumbing. These newly trained masons construct a toilet and a shower for each family using the local materials made and collected. The cost of the external materials like cement, steel, toilet pan, doors and roof is supplied as a social cost by Gram Vikas and the government. From a safe source, water is pumped or brought by gravity to an elevated water reservoir, from where each family gets 24 hour protected waters supply through three taps – one each in the toilet, shower and kitchen. All operation and maintenance costs are met by the community.
The endowment collected at the start of the programme is invested and the return from it can be used to meet the social costs of toilets and showers for future families as they come up in the village. In this way, there will be 100% coverage of all families at all times in future.
Once this is established and running, people give attention to the education of their children and livelihood activities. To improve the returns from their land watershed activities are taken up. Then people think of roads, connectivity, better housing and other income generating activities.
Can you describe your relationship with other stakeholders.
The central government is enthusiastic about our model of full inclusion and would like to spread our work to other states in India. The Orissa government does help us financially. I feel, however, as we are doing their work, they could do better to be a partner in the inclusive development of the most marginalized in the state.
There are many invitations from other states in India and we are seriously considering the possibilities of working in other states.
We would also like to spread our work to south-east asia and Africa. In fact, we have just initiated our work in the Gambia and Tanzania.
The biggest constraint in expanding the work is the lack of competent and at the same time dedicated human resources.
Another stakeholder is other civil society institutions. We would like to involve such groups and NGOs to take this work forward.
How and why do you imagine, you could develop your projects in other contexts?
As I said earlier, Orissa is the poorest state in India, where more than 40% of the people are living below the poverty line. If this can be done in Orissa, we feel confident that it can be done anywhere else in India. Orissa has also the poorest statistics as far as water and sanitation are concerned.
We feel that we have models which can be upscaled not only in the field of water and sanitation, but also in watershed, skill building, renewable energy, education, health, livelihoods. We have a model in organic agriculture as well as in institutional bank financing to the poor instead of, often, usurious micro-finance.
We feel that if these could be accomplished, probably it can be done in almost all parts of the developing World to the advantage of the poor and marginalized.