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Morigaon is the 2nd smallest district in Assam after Kamrup (Metro). It has a population of around 1 million mainly dependent upon agriculture and fishery. People belonging to various ethnicities and religions lead peaceful coexistence and engage in works of various types, mainly in the primary sector of the economy.
MGNREGS provided new vistas of employment to most of the rural workforce who otherwise used to migrate to other districts and also other states like Manipur and Nagaland in search of work. Now, as the employment opportunities are made available at their doorstep, they no more need to leave their families in search of livelihood. Unlike other developmental schemes/ programmes, MGNREGS is a demand driven Scheme and can ensure infusion of huge amount of funds into rural economy to change poverty stricken hamlets into islands of prosperity. Increase in household income and purchasing power also had positive impact on Health and Education sectors. Several new assets were created under the Scheme leading to growth of other occupations.
The District Administration has recently taken several new initiatives to actualize the full potential of MGNREGS. Schemes were taken up in each ward of every Gaon Panchayat so that Job Card holders do not have to travel long distances. Rajiv Gandhi Seva Kendras are being built in every Gaon Panchayat to provide better services to the citizens. For capacity building, every Gaon Panchayat Secretary and Junior Engineer was provided Laptop and internet connectivity is being provided to every Gaon Panchayat office to ensure that MIS is done from Gaon Panchayat itself. With more such interventions, we are hopeful to take this Scheme to next level of implementation by which it can truly become a harbinger of positive transformation in rural set up.
Morigaon District is one of the most flood prone regions in the State. The northern and western part of the district comprising of Laharighat, Bhuragaon and Mayong development blocks are most affected by floods due to their proximity to the river Brahmaputra. During floods, vast areas submerge under flood water inflicting immense damage to both life and property. In such times, in order to provide shelter to people and animals, some artificially raised high lands called ‘Raised Platforms’, were constructed under MGNREGA at strategic locations.
One such Raised Platform was constructed at a cost of Rs. 3.00 lakhs under MGNREGA in February 2012 at Tengatoli Char in Dhumkura Gaon Panchayat under Laharighat Development Block. On 26th June 2012, flood waters entered Tengatoli Char area and washed away many houses and cattle shed etc. It was on this raised platform that 26 families along with 56 cows and 40 goats took shelter and thereby precious lives were saved. Those among the persons taking shelter on this raised platform include some of the labourers like Hekamat Ali (Job Card No. 1302), Dilwar Hussain (Job Card No. 1398), Azgar Ali (Job Card No. 1292) etc. who had worked on this scheme. Thus, this scheme being 100 percent earth work based, not only had created around 2200 person-days but also had created a useful asset saving many precious lives from being washed away by flood waters.
A similar Raised Platform was built at Chitalmari Pather Char covering 300 Square Meter area at the cost of Rs. 4.59 Lakhs. Total 153 labourers worked on this Scheme. When asked about efficacy of this Scheme, Abul Hasen (Job Card No. 486) who worked on this Scheme candidly replied, “Through the Scheme I got 36 days of work and Rs. 4680/- were credited to my bank account. With this money I could look after my family. Because of the raised platform, both human and animals could take shelter during the time of flood.”
Morigaon district gets ample amount of rainfall and there is huge scope to take up plantation schemes all over the district. Keeping in view large requirement of saplings, a Scheme to raise a Nursery was taken up in Manipur Gaon Panchayat jointly with Forest department at approximate cost of Rs. 20 lakh. A vast stretch of area was lying unutilized as waste land prior to taking up of the scheme under MGNREGA. During the execution of the scheme, this entire area was brought under plantation. All together 560 naked beds and 600 poly-bags beds were made to raise 16 lakh saplings. The objective of raising such large number of sapling was to provide for requirement during plantation under Individual Beneficiary Scheme and plantation in public places during the month of July/August of this year. On the World Environment Day i.e. on 5th June 2012, total 1 lakh saplings were planted under MGNREGA by all Gaon Panchayats throughout the district. All the saplings utilized during this programme were provided from this nursery only. Thus, this nursery not only generated substantial number of person-days but also provided adequate number of sapling at a much cheaper rate than that of any private nursery.
Drought-proofing and conservation of traditional water bodies is one of the main priorities during selection of Schemes under MGNREGA. One such Scheme was taken up with the initiative of villagers of Lahkar Gaon Panchayat in Moirabari Development block. Total 329 Job Card holders worked on the Scheme to reclaim the earthen embankment of Leteri Beel at the cost of Rs. 21.84 Lakh. The Leteri Beel is an old natural stream which was earlier connected with river Brahmaputra. The stream was disconnected after construction of embankment and large-scale siltation took place at the bed of the Beel converting it into a plain ground. Gaon Sabha decided to deepen the bed of this Beel for various uses like irrigation, fishery, Jute cultivation, plantation at the Bank etc. Benefit of the Scheme was evident when Aminul Islam, a job card holder who worked on this Scheme stated, “After the reclamation of the Beel, we got water not only for fishery and for rotting of jute but also for drinking by animals and for utilization during lean period.”
Water conservation works have been given due priority in Mayong Development Block as a number of villages face the problem of water scarcity during the months of Feb–June. Survey was undertaken by the officials from DRDA with the help of Local Panchayats to identify such villages to take up water conservation works on priority.
Jagi Kumoi is one such villages which has the problem of water scarcity during the dry season and flooding during the rainy season. To address this problem, a check dam has been constructed MGNREGA during the year 2010-11 so as to preserve the water in between three hillocks. The earthwork for construction of the reservoir was undertaken using unskilled manual work and the actual construction of the reservoir was taken up using the material component of MGNREGA at a total cost of Rs. Twenty seven lakh. A separate perennial water source called Lakhi Nizara identified by the local villagers is conveniently harnessed for supplying water to this reservoir. The water reservoir now plays an important role in storing the excess supply of water during the rainy season. The reservoir has, in fact, enhanced the water supply to nearby village and the local populace also highly appreciated the asset created under MGNREGA. In the next financial year 2011-12, an Irrigation Canal is also constructed under MGNREGA from this reservoir to the nearby paddy/ horticulture field at a cost of Rs. 18 lakh. Thus, MGNREGS has been instrumental in addressing the problems faced by villagers and in creating useful assets for them.
The Way Forward
Many new initiatives are being implemented under MGNREGS which include connecting every Gaon Panchayat through a Rural Highway, raising of Nursery by Self Help Groups, rehabilitation of erosion affected families under IBS on Raised Platforms etc. In our view, MGNREGS can become the most important determining factor in transformation of agrarian economy of this district.