Tall promises

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BIG farmers and project officials have,- cornered most of the benefits of the watershed development programme (WDP) in Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh. Undertaken during 1995-96 in 270 micro watersheds spanning 219 villages, the WDP was to be implemented under new guidelines issued by the Central government in 1994, which demand that local communities should play a larger role in the process of development. However, the programme has failed because the government has not involved the poor farmers in the implementation of the WDP, says Y V Malla Reddy, director Rural Development Trust (RDT), an Anantapur-based NGO. Villagers have also alleged that most of the funds allocated for the project have been misused or squandered.
Lopsided progress One of the key principles of the new guidelines - the principle of equity - has taken a back seat during implementation of the WDP. Kontaka is one of the villages in Anantapur district where the WDP is being implemented. Whatever work has been done in a year has reportedly benefited large farmers, especially the sarpanch (chief of village council), who is a member of the watershed development committee (WDC) which supervises the implementation of the WDP. For instance, the check-dam constructed in 1996 stands at the edge of the lands belonging to the sarpanch and his relatives.

Though the Rs 2.5 lakh sanctioned for the village has been spent, some villagers complain of misappropriation of funds. They say 4,000 coconut plants were supplied by the government to promote social forestry in the village, of which only 300 were planted. The rest found their way to the market. "There is an inexplicable secrecy in maintaining the accounts related to the watershed works," alleges Subanna, a villager. The afforestation drive launched by the WDC has been a failure. Hardly 10 per cent of the saplings that had been planted survive today. "They have ignored the advice of the villagers who wanted local species like mango, neem, turmeric and coconut to be planted. Instead, they opted for babool and Prosopis juliflora," complains J Peddarma, another villager.

Watershed development in Anantapur remains purely an area-based approach. For the landless and the poor, the only benefit that trickles down is the wage component of the programme. Even here, there is a discrimination between wages being paid to men and women. While men receive Rs 30 per day, women get only Rs 20.

"We are helpless in this matter as these rates are decided by the WDCs. However, after a period of four years, we aim to involve the landless and the poor in the maintenance of these structures for which 10 per cent of the total fund has been earmarked. "Our aim is to improve the conditions of the land and increase productivity," says M Srinivas Raju, director of District Rural Development Agency (DRDA),Anantapur.
Implementation strategy Depending on the source of funding, the watersheds in Anantapur have been divided into two categories: the desert development programme (DDP) and the employment assurance scheme (EAS) Of the ministry of rural development. In Anantapur, there are 116 watersheds under the DDP and the remaining 154 under the EAS.

Under the EAS watersheds, some contour bunding and stone terracing have been done in Lathavaram-B and Shikashana Palli villages. Of the total Rs 28 lakh allotted for these villages, only Rs 2.6 lakh has been spent so far. The watersheds under DDP, however, fare slightly better. A total of 406.72 ha contour bunding and 147.30 ha stone terracing had been done until November 1996. A sum of Rs 13.07 lakh out of the total allocation of Rs 33.75 lakh has been spent. After getting approval from the government in 1994, the DRDA Of Anantapur identified 700 micro water-sheds of 500 ha each with the help of satellite data. However, based on the degree of land degradation, 270 such watersheds spanning 219 villages were taken up for the WDP during 1995-96. Calculating the cost of developing the land as Rs 4,500 per ha, a budget of Rs 22.5 lakh per watershed for a period of four years has been allotted. As per the new guidelines, it was necessary to constitute project implementing agencies (PIAS) for carrying out water- shed development works. So far, 46 PlAs have been constituted in the district and a watershed development team (WDT)' comprising three officials was also formed.

In September 1995, the team visited Kontaka and conducted a participatory rural appraisal (PPA) hastily. Users and self-help groups were organised and a WDC was constituted to help implement the WDP. Today, Kontaka presents a picture of contrast. One part of the village is a picture of prosperity. There is a cluster of modern houses where live rich farmers who own large tracts of lands. They produce large quantities of paddy, sorghum and groundnut with the help of modern farm machinery, an army of farm labourers and tube wells. Most other villagers lead hand-to-mouth existence in small dilapidated houses, depending on less than one ha field and erratic rainfall for their livelihood.

The situation in other villages is not different. The same PIA (which worked in Kontaka) is responsible for the WDP in 25 other villages. But satisfactory work has been reported only in Cheyyedu village. Contour bunds were built on seven ha and 22 dams were constructed. In the minor irrigation sector, two check-dams have also been built. "This was possible, because of the persistent pressure we put on the PIA," says Gangadhar Reddy, chairperson WDC. "Political rivalry is the main reason that has hampered progress in the other villages," explains B Mohammad Rasool, a WDT official.

The role of NGOs
As per new guidelines, the government alone cannot exclusively carry out the watershed development work. Hence, the involvement Of NGOS was necessary. A few big NGOs have cornered a large number of watersheds and some have been established almost overnight. RDT, the largest NGO in the district is involved in 33 water- shed projects. Progress in these watersheds too, has been tardy. Another NGO, Virpo, established in 1995, has been awarded work in eight watersheds in Anantapur. Interestingly enough, its director, Siva Reddy, is the brother-in-law of M Subbarayuddu, the agriculture development officer Of DRDA, Anantapur.

The continuation of the WDT, its areas of work and responsibilities and the fund allotted to meet the salaries of the WDT members have left many unsatisfied. "It is practically impossible for the WDT to supervise the work in 10 watersheds, with only one person in each watershed," says Prabhakar Reddy, a WDT official.

However, Raju remains unperturbed about these criticisms. After presenting a list of achievements of the WDP, he claims, "This is quite an achievement in a year-and-a-half, which is a very short period to judge its performance." But as long as the new guide-lines remain confined to papers, the WDP will be a failure for the majority of villagers in Anantapur.