Ahead of Elections 2014, rights-based welfare schemes are under attack. To those who argue ‘Dolenomics’ doesn’t work, a survey of five schemes in 10 states shows that the Rs 1,68,478 crore annually the nation spends is making a real and tangible difference on the ground.
Perhaps you have heard of the Sahariyas, who in official jargon used to be known as a ‘Primitive Tribal Group’. Most of them are scattered on both sides of the border between Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where they eke out a living from the shrinking forests, tiny plots of arid land and menial labour. Their living conditions are among the most miserable in India, or in the world, for that matter. We first visited Baran district, on the Rajasthan side of this area, in 2002. At that time, Baran was in the news for a wave of starvation deaths among the Sahariyas. Nearly 50 children were said to have died of hunger, and many Sahariya families were surviving on sawaan, a wild grass.
Vivid memories of that visit include being puzzled at just where the Sahariyas lived. There were no roads or even paths to reach their settlements and we often had to cross dry rocky riverbeds to reach them. Public facilities were virtually absent. Forced to fend for themselves, the Sahariyas survived from the sale of minor forest produce, earning barely Rs 10-12 every other day. Exploitation was rampant—they were paid one-fifth or less of the market value of the products they gathered. Sandy hair, distended stomachs and other signs of child under-nutrition were everywhere. The government, as usual, was in denial mode. Chief minister Ashok Gehlot went to the extent of saying that sawaan was actually quite tasty. Kheer made of sawaan, he claimed, was a local delicacy prepared on festive occasions.