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  • Unconditional cash transfers: SEWA pilots a unique experiment in Madhya Pradesh

  • SEWA voices heartbreaking stories of women: Victims of Child Marriage

  • No water: A barrier for the poor

  • SEWA bids goodbye to Jayantikaben

No. 50 | June 2013
H2 Side Unconditional cash transfers: SEWA pilots a unique experiment in Madhya Pradesh

The public debate on cash transfers in India has been divided without empirical evidence from the ground. In order to provide credible evidence and to bring in the experiences of beneficiaries themselves, SEWA Bharat and SEWA Madhya Pradesh entered into a partnership with UNICEF to pilot an unconditional cash transfer, or basic income grant experiment in rural areas of Madhya Pradesh.

This is the first time unconditional cash transfers have been subject to such a detailed assessment in India. The results should assist those trying to reach a balanced judgment on whether or not, and if so how, cash transfers could be incorporated into Indian social protection and economic policy.

It should be stressed that the pilots were not intended to test whether cash transfers could or should be substituted for other policies such as PDS, MNREGA, or the public health or government education system, although of course the findings do have considerable relevance to debates around those policies.

Design Features

The two pilot projects in Madhya Pradesh were designed to identify the effects of cash grants on individual and family behaviour and attitudes, and on community development. In 8 villages everybody received the grants while in 12 other similar villages nobody received them. In order to test the impact of a voice organization 50% of all villages were those in which SEWA was active. The impact of the grants was studied by comparing what happened in the various villages.

The second pilot was in two similar tribal villages, one where everyone received cash grants and one where no one did.

Box 1: Calculation of the grant amount:

The original amount was calculated so that it was not high enough to substitute for employment, but was enough to make some difference for basic needs. This amount was roughly calculated as between 20% and 30% of the income of families in the lower-income scales; at, or just above, the current poverty line.

In the selected villages, every man, every woman and every child was provided with a modest unconditional cash grant each month. For between a year and 17 months, over 6,000 individuals received small unconditional monthly cash transfers, of 200 rupees a month per adult, 100 rupees a month per child. After one year, the amounts were raised to 300 rupees and 150 rupees respectively.

The situation before, during and after receiving the grants was evaluated by use of three rounds of statistical surveys and a large set of case studies, comparing the changes in the period with what happened to a control group that did not receive grants. In total, the surveys covered over 15,000 individuals.

  Why unconditional

The income grants given to the individuals in this pilot had no conditions on how they are to be spent. It is left to the person to decide on expenditure. A central hypothesis tested was that people are generally capable of making their own decisions and will do so in the best interests of themselves, their children and their families.

  Why individual

A defining feature of these pilots is that the basic cash transfers were paid to each individual, rather than to households or to a selected individual. Transfers for children under the age of 18 went to the mother or, if there was no mother, a designated guardian. Individual transfers allowed us to assess the utilization and by different types of individuals in the households

  Why universal

In the selected villages for these pilots, grants have been provided to every person registered as a usual resident at the outset of the project, the only requirement being that they opened an account for the transfer of funds within three months of the launch. Given the controversy over the methods of poverty assessments, it was felt that a universal transfer would enable us to evaluate the impact of the cash grants on households with different income levels.

A Conference on "Unconditional Cash Transfers: Findings from Two pilot studies" was held on 30th- 31st May in Delhi to present the preliminary findings from the studies. The objective of the conference was to share the preliminary findings of the studies in an open platform with stakeholders-- policy makers, researchers, practitioners, government agencies, students, journalists etc so that further analyses of the data could be more meaningful for policy.

Main Findings:

The following provides a few of the many findings from the evaluation surveys which were presented at the conference.

  • Improved Food Sufficiency: Cash recipients were significantly more likely to have enough income for their food needs than those in the control group of villages.
  • Improved Nutrition: There was a significant reduction in the proportion of malnourished female children in the villages that received the cash grants.
  • Increase in Livestock: The number of livestock owned by cash recipients increased significantly, contributing to improved nutrition, as well as savings and insurance.
  • No increase in alcohol consumption: There was no increase in alcohol intake in the households that received the cash grants. In the tribal village, alcohol intake actually reduced.
  • Reduced incidence of Illness and regular intake of medicines: Receipt of cash grants was associated with lower incidence of illness, more regular medical treatment and more regular intake of medicines.
  • Improved school attendance: School attendance of children in households that received cash grants became more regular; cash recipients also incurred greater expenditure on schooling of their children than households which did not receive the cash grants.
  • Increase in own-farm work vs. wage labour: Contrary to a common criticism, cash transfers were associated with an increase in labour and work, especially own-account work on small farms. This effect was especially strong for women and for tribal communities.
  • Increase in spending on agricultural inputs: By small and subsistence farmers, resulting in better agricultural yield and improved food security.
  • Promotion of new income-earning activity: Households that received the cash grants were three times more likely to start a new business or production activity than households that did not receive the cash transfer.
  • Reduced borrowings and increase in savings: Cash transfers were associated with a significant reduction in indebtedness and a significant increase in savings.
  • Financial Inclusion: Opening bank accounts for remitting the cash grants became in itself an important measure of financial inclusion.
Radhaben, from Ghoda Khurd village said that she spent her cash transfer for buying seeds for planting which increased her income, and goats for milk in the home. She said that some of the money went towards shoes for children to go to school, and some for medicines for herself. The Sarpanch from the same village said that he was not sure about the scheme at first but when he saw the good effects he himself has asked Government to implement such schemes.

Shri Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Rural development said that Banks are unable to open accounts on a large scale. He particularly appreciated the data and discussion on financial inclusion and on the Banking Correspondent (or BC) model as this is central to the process of cash transfers. He suggested that a "cafeteria approach" to financial institutions is needed to achieve inclusion through cash transfers. He felt that given the reach of the Postal system, the post offices should be used parallel to the Banks for opening accounts. Common to both would be a Banking Correspondent Network

Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Dy. Chairman of the Planning Commission said that SEWA studies showed that the implementation of cash transfers is feasible, in spite of the problems of opening bank accounts. This study eliminates an important argument against cash transfers, namely the belief that people will spend cash in wasteful ways, and that liquor consumption will increase. The study shows what happens when people get cash and how they use it towards development and not in a wasteful manner.
H2 Side SEWA voices heartbreaking stories of women: Victims of Child Marriage

In the 21st century when we are taking pride in girls outshining boys in all fields, many parents in the rural states of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh are resorting to the age-old practice of marrying off their girls at an early age. This is happening despite the awareness about the Indian law against child marriages.

Reasons contributing to the spread of child marriage in India have been poverty, dowry, political turmoil, military alliances, the caste system and social motives. Severe consequences of child marriages such as early maternal deaths, infant health, fertility outcomes and violence have been registered. Child marriage has a direct relation with the untimely responsibility placed on the shoulders of minor children. This leads to health related issues among the minor couples.

SEWA echoes the stories of such women and their grievances below:

Lathitha a resident of Gulaothi village in Uttar Pradesh had lost her parents at an early age. She was too young to rebel when her two elder sisters decided to get her married at the age of 17. She was soon married and sent off to a poor family in 2010. She passed away in 2011 in the same home where she had arrived as a newly wedded bride just a year prior. Reasons stated for her untimely death were conceiving a child at an early age without proper understanding of the situation and lack of proper medical attention.

Here is a story of a 13 year old teenager from Hafala village in Bihar who had given birth to 7 children by the age of 27. During each of her labor pains her uterus would come out causing her unbearable pain. Concerned doctors have warned her not to conceive any further as it might lead to death.

Ushaben from Raghubir Nagar of Delhi was married off at the age of 15. Due to her early marriage she could not purse her studies further. Within the span of the first 7 years of married life she became a mother to four children. Her in-laws refused to support them financially once their family had expanded. Due to lack of education and early marriage Ushaben did not know how to make a living. This increased the fights between the couple. Around the same time one of her child fell very sick. In absence of proper medical facilities the child lost his vision. She started the work of vending to support her family. By this time the fights between the couple increased tremendously making them stay apart for a period of five years. Currently Ushabens son who is now 20 years of age cannot make a living since he grew up disturbed in the middle of fights and violence. On looking back she feels that child marriage not only ruined hers and but her children's lives as well.

According to Punamben of Gandhipur Bihar, Poverty and the dowry system are the major contributing factors leading to child marriages. She states that her husband is a rickshaw driver and a father of two daughters. They married their elder daughter at the age of 13 due to poverty and fear of increased dowry with increase in their daughter's age. She stresses the fact that for day to day wage earners there is no better option available.

The women of all communities where this practice is prevalent all are well aware of the fact that child marriage is illegal and even punishable under the law. However, it needs determination and social support to ensure the eradication of this curse.

H2 Side No water: A barrier for the poor

For the rural women in semi-arid parts of Gujarat, water is a major problem that affects all regardless of caste, class and ethnicity.SEWA realized that water was a serious issue affecting the productivity and the quality of lives of its women members at the village level.

Women workers can undertake income-generating activities only if there is close proximity of water source near their homes. Tired, weak or pregnant women cannot undertake income-generating activities after working hard to fetch water from far off places. SEWA members emphasized their need of drinking water as their first demand and explaining how water closer to their homes could help them undertake animal husbandry, irrigation, craft work and attend SEWA meetings.

Due to this SEWA began its Women, Water and Work Campaign in 1994 in the semi-arid regions of Gujarat completing over two decades now. SEWA's women's groups which were initiated through collective strength have been vigorous in sustaining local water management through rain water harvesting, watershed management, handpump repair, pipeline maintenance and reviving traditional sources of water.

The water campaign has had a significant impact on the quality of the local water supply: almost 4074 roof rainwater harvesting structures have been built, 73 community tanks, 171 wells have been cleaned and recharged and 225 village ponds renovation have been done. Some of the significant factors that have sustained collective action of women are the presence of strong grassroots institution (panisamiti), the establishment of a technical cadre of women (barefoot technicians), the ability of women's groups to excel social barriers and continuous dialoguing with the state. The campaign gave poor women access to reliable and safe water supply and to build their own capacity to become owners and managers of the local water supply.

The lake of Shedla village in Surendranagar district was deepened with the help of public funds. The water collected in the lake benefitted 20 farmers owning up to 100 acres of cultivation land. The cultivation of land is dependent on the amount of water available to these farmers. The farmers using water from this lake benefit due to micro irrigation and more land around the lake can be used for the purpose of irrigation. Such small water sources should be authenticated and selected for water management and provide prominence to micro irrigation.

Many communities in Gujarat have come to rely on piped water schemes or tanker truck delivery for their drinking water. With the establishment of individual water tanks in their homes it has become easier for people to store and access water for themselves and their cattles.

The Campaign has shed light on significant achievements that women have received through its guided interventions in the water sector. Madhuben of Sabarkantha District benefitted through governments drip irrigation scheme. Due to the awareness of drip irrigation she currently cultivates 500 mounds of potatoes instead of 250 mounds and wishes to create drip irrigation awareness amongst other farmers.

As a result of the Water Campaign, a greater number of rural women now have access to water regularly and without having to travel long distances. As a result of this time is saved, economic activities have been developed in areas such as salt farming, forestry and artisan work. Portions of the income generated from these enterprises have been pooled as a revolving fund, the Blue Fund, whereby loans, Blue Credit, is disbursed for the members livelihoods and other water related activities, including household small-scale roof rainwater harvesting tank, small-scale farm water retention and bunding, setting up village water and other enterprises and constructing village wells with lock stopper pulleys.

Jomiben of Madhutra village of Patan district in the State of Gujarat is a SEWA Member and an efficient water manager. Here SEWA initiated the water campaign and introduced the concept of roof rainwater harvesting. Now with SEWA's efforts she has an individual water tank in her home. She refills the tank by purchasing tanker water. She insists her guests to have more butter and waste lesser water. Individual water tanks have proved to be of great relief to women.

In Surel Village of Surendranagar there are 120 underground water tanks to collect rain water. These tanks are filled with water coming from the Panchayat and tankers. In times of non-functionality of the water pumps these underground water tanks provide relief.

Similarly in changing times women laborers in the urban areas too are facing water issues. In Juhapura area of Ahmedabad, stitching worker, Rahisaben Ajmeri faces severe water problems. The corporation hasn't made any water arrangements in this area. Water connection has been taken from a private bore well owner by the community paying him Rs 1800. Every month she has to pay the owner Rs 200 as compensation and even then she receives water for only 15 minutes. At times when someone in the community uses water pump the water supply becomes almost negligible for the rest of the community.

Gauriben from Patadi village of Surendranagar district works as a domestic help. She receives water only for half an hour every morning. This problem restricts her working hours.

Sejalben Solanki residing in Odhav area of Ahmedabad does embroidery work. She receives water barely for half an hour every morning. She struggles to fill up all the vessels with water in such a short time.

H2 Side SEWA bids goodbye to Jayantikaben

Anasuya, is SEWA's mouth-piece, the only Gujarati journal dedicated to issues of poor self employed women. It was started with Jayantikaben Jayant as the editor in 1981, at the time when SEWA separated ( actually was expelled!) from Textile Labour Association. We needed a voice of our own, a women's voice, a voice for the poor, for the workers. All these years Jayantikaben has provided that voice and now she is no more. She passed away on the 18th of May at the age of 87.

Jayantikaben was a staunch Gandhian, and daughter of labour leader Kalidas Jhaveri. Elaben, who worked closely with her over three decades says, "Jayantikaben was meticulous as an editor, she would not let a single mistake pass. Had it not been for her professionalism, and her selfless devotion that Anasuya would have closed down long ago. Not a single issue of Anasuya was missed in the last 32 years and even more remarkable, not a single spelling or grammatical mistake!

We salute her loyalty, discipline, dedication and humbleness. There was never a time when she even mistakenly used a politically incorrect word or thought. I had immense faith in her conscience. She belonged to the older generation but her thoughts and ideas were progressive. Her personal life was simple to the point of being ascetic, but her writings were full of thought and feeling. We will miss her greatly".

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