BCT and its activities

1.1 An idea tested 

1.2 Setting an example to emulate – salt making and fish farming 

1.3 Cooperative sugar factory – a non starter 

1.4 Bhagavatula Charitable Trust (BCT) born 

1.5 Reaching people through their own organisation 

1.6 BCT Activities: Community Organisation

1.1 An idea tested 

In 1967, Dr B V Parameswara Rao, 34 years old, with a Ph.D. in nuclear science from USA, returned to his native village Dimili in Yellamanchili taluka of the Visakhapatnam district “wanting to do something” for the people of his village. He earlier worked with BARC as Scientific Officer. He began by getting the villagers to build a high school for their children, who were then attending a school atYellamanchili which is five miles away. Considering that Dimili had a primary school from 1834, it was difficult to explain why it had to wait for so long to have a high school.

Dr Rao approached the local legislator and he said,” We could not collect Rs 135 for the festival of village deity… Dimili is not United States Of America.” Dr Rao recalls that there was opposition on the ground that money would, as usual, be misused. Having convinced the richest and the most tight-fisted man in the village about the purpose being genuine, convincing the rest of the villagers was easy.

After initial difficulties characterised by apathy, distrust and rivalry, the villagers collected Rs 40,000 from Dimili and Rs 30,000 from neighbouring villages. The US Peace Corps in Hyderabad donated $ 2500 and an old man in the village donated 3 cents of land. A Bombay architect prepared the plans, free of charge, for a functional, low cost structure which was ready by June 1968. But then the government of Andhra Pradesh suddenly withdrew permission to private parties to start schools.

The school started functioning in late 1968, but it took two years of intense effort with the state government which included calling on Chief Minister and Governor to get the normal grant-in-aid status for it. The school received ad-hoc grants from the state government to pay the staff till 1976 and then it was handed over to the zilla parishad.

“The struggle was worth it. It showed that people’s aspirations were attainable by voluntary means and a technique was tested”, says Dr Rao.

1.2 Setting an example to emulate – salt making and fish farming

Having decided to settle in, and work for his village, Dr Rao needed some work to keep himself going and he looked around. From Yellamanchili towards the sea, down stream the river Sarada, a beautiful sight awaits the traveller. The river Varaha joins the river Sarada at its mouth and together they pour themselves into the Bay of Bengal through a deep and narrow cut in the hill range guarding the coast. During high tide, the waves pump sea water up a long creek that runs into low-lying land between the rivers. This brine soaked expanse forms the salt tract of Vakapadu. A little to the north are similar tracts falling under the jurisdiction of Marripalem village.

Dr Rao’s initial attempt at mobilising local effort to manufacture common salt met with all-round opposition. The villagers did not understand the logic, the village leaders did not like outside initiative, the small-scale industry department of the government kept its own slow pace and his family was skeptical about the commercial viability. He fought on regardless on all four fronts and set up a public limited company – only to suffer a set-back in the 1977 floods.

In 1980, Solar Salts limited picked up enough momentum to reach a sales turnover of about Rs 200000. The demonstration effect was the development of salt-making in the area. Salt making caught up with the local people. Here the water from the sea is drawn into large reservoirs where prawns are grown. In summer, the water is drawn into the salt pans with wind mills where it evaporates leaving salt crystals. Work is in full swing by the local people, helped by seasoned skilled labour from Tuticorin down south, preparing reservoirs, condensers and crystallisers for new salt pans.

1.3 Cooperative sugar factory – a non starter

Sugarcane is one of the local crops and Dr Rao thought that farmers could become self-reliant if they formed a cooperative, grew drought resistant varieties and processed the cane in their own factory. This scheme pursued in 1973 fell a victim to political intrigues. Facing opposition, Dr Rao abandoned the project after securing the required licenses from the government and just as he had done for collecting the money, he went from door to door to return it.

The local people’s confidence in him grew drought-resistant and so he did not have to do much canvassing to start the Divvela Cooperative Farmers’ Service Centre in 1974. The cooperative was launched to help farmers with agricultural loans, meet their equipment needs and provide opportunities for them to diversify into allied agricultural activities like dairy and poultry.

1.4 Bhagavatula Charitable Trust (BCT) born 

Money, or lack of it, was a big problem and the search lead to a German organisation called EZE (Central Protestant Agency for Development Assistance) which asked him to form a trust. The seed money came from Dr Rao’s father who said “I know nothing of what you are talking. But I have trust in you. Take the money and name the Trust after the family.” Bhagavatula Charitable Trust (BCT) was registered in November 1976.

Its main function, as perceived then, was that of funding conduit for rural development drawing upon the resources of the government, the banks and as well as other funding organisations. Other functions envisaged were to attract highly qualified and highly placed individuals into development of villages, to generate and coordinate local efforts towards achieving common purposes in a concerted manner, to facilitate villagers’ access to credit, appropriate technologies and expertise and to render account to donors.

First two years were spent in rehabilitation work: 150 acres of salt tracts in Marripalem were retrieved under the auspices of BCT and used to rehabilitate 85 families; through a donation of 1000 MT of rice from CARE and transportation support from OXFAM, BCT was able to provide for approximately over 8 lakh man days of work involved in reclamation of sand-cast lands; with incentive deposits of Rs 2.5 lakhs from OXFAM, Canara bank was induced to give loans worth Rs 8 lakhs to more than 2000 small farmers, artisans and women and thus brought banking services into the area for the first time.

1.5 Reaching people through their own organisation

BCT tried to reach the people it wanted to serve through an organisation of their own as indicated by its frustrated effort to organise cooperatives. Its search for appropriate tools for change had led it to women and village level Mahila Mandals.

But – Mahila Mandals as organised in the beginning proved inadequate and led it to Self Help Groups – within the structure of Mahila Mandals – proving that appropriate organisation structure, at a level matching with the ability of people to manage, relate themselves mutually through it for benefitting themselves and participate meaningfully, is crucial.

BCT tried to build mutuality among beneficiaries by dividing the group into sub-groups of appropriate size and confining membership of sub-groups to a particular neighbourhood. By not encouraging group formation on the basis of occupation, it tried to spread the risk. It has also tried to retain the scope for future group economic activity when the individual members build their strength and feel the need for such collaborative effort.

The reasons for not being so successful in its initial effort can be ascribed to its attempts to organise them at a level and scale much beyond the capacity of many to participate meaningfully, use the opportunities beneficially, relate mutually and control effectively.

To achieve the goals that it has set up for itself BCT undertakes several activities and they are categorised and briefly presented below:

1.6 BCT Activities: Community Organisation

a. Initial strategy changed

BCT activities were restricted to men until 1980 and the experience of its working with them was not all that satisfactory. BCT found that men in general, especially among poorer sections, are self-centered, lack concern for their family, lack motivation to make concerted efforts, often fritter away the limited resources and hence are unreliable as tools of developmental change.

This understanding made BCT change from working with men to working with women. Now BCT firmly believes that by tapping the creative energies of women, a family and a community at large could be put on the path of self-reliance and it is mobilising the poverty stricken rural women into productive and constructive action.

In the words of Dr Rao:”We have come to realise that when we work through men, the benefits rarely permeate to the family. A man’s world is mostly limited to himself and perhaps to his farm or work. But a woman’s world extends to her family, that is herself, her husband and children. Through them the village also develops. You can see the result.”

Women were encouraged to save and start income generating activities on their own to work their way out of privation and poverty by generating an awareness of their inherent qualities and capacities. In a phased manner the trust implemented programmes like formation of Mahila Mandals, exploration of resources and activities for generating income by utilising resources at their command, mainly their time and their existing and or easily imparted skills. BCT does liaison work with credit institutions for inducing them to extend banking facilities to rural women and help them in marketing the products of their efforts.

b. Organising women around thrift

Mahila Mandals were established largely during 1980-84 and they faced several problems like decline in membership, leadership confined to a few and periodical withdrawal of savings without allowing them to accumulate, etc., as revealed by a study done in April 1993 by the Institute of Development and Planning Studies, Visakhapatnam. Reasons were attributed to the way the operations were carried out especially the savings scheme.

The study also reveals that membership of Mahila Mandals did not cover the weaker sections to the extent of their proportion in the over all population in the villages. Formation of Self Help Groups largely consisting of women in a particular neighbourhood, with whom they can easily work with and negotiate on an equal basis was suggested by Institute of Development and Planning Studies.

Members were encouraged to save and these savings were credited to their individual savings account on which no interest was paid. A member borrowed either Rs 100 or Rs 500 and repaid RS 200 or Rs 640 respectively. These amounts were accounted for as follows:

Loan amountRepayment towardsTotal
LoanThrift fundCalamity fundMandal fund

Thrift fund and calamity fund were accounted for individually and a member can withdraw amounts from thrift fund accumulated at will and from calamity fund accumulated only in case of calamities. Mandal fund was like a common good fund and member had no individual claim against it. As evident from above a member was encouraged to borrow the smaller amount (Rs.100) more number of times than the larger sum of Rs.500 once.

The study recommended charging of interest on loans, paying of interest on savings and linking of savings with eligibility limit to borrow, and rotation of members in leadership positions. The study also recommended the self-help group based mahila mandal structure so as to provide more opportunities for meaningful and responsible participation of members. The recommendations were accepted and all the Mahila Mandals were restructured accordingly. Appropriate charges of interest are fixed now.

c. Present Mahila Mandal network

Mahila Mandal at the village level is the basic unit around which women are organised. 5 to 6 women in the neighbourhood are encouraged to form a Thrift Advisory Group (TAG) and the functions envisaged for the group members are self-education and regular saving. TAG members are collectively responsible for scrutinising and recommending individual requests for loans. They also take responsibility for proper utilisation and recovery of loans once they are sanctioned and disbursed. TAG activities are coordinated by a leader periodically elected by the members of the group. TAG members stand as guarantors mutually, each to all and all to each. 3 or 4 such TAGs are formed into a Self Help Group (SHG) and leaders of constituent TAGs are the coordinating committee of SHG. Each SHG has a leader, a deputy leader and a person entrusted with keeping the accounts of members of all the constituent TAGs. Leader and deputy leader are responsible for looking after the needs of health and non-formal education along with solidarity building. It is envisaged that members will be helped to undertake an economic activity collectively in future. Each SHG has a bank account operated by the leader jointly with any one of the other two functionaries.

Such SHGs in a particular village are formed into a Mahila Mandal with all leaders of constituent SHGs as its committee headed by a President.

This committee decides on all the loan applications and makes requests to BCT for additional funds, if required, to meet the demands of credit. At present, a TAG member is allowed to borrow three times his thrift amount with the restriction that over all credit extended to a TAG is limited to three times the thrift contributed by its members. An SHG has an over all limit of credit upto three times the thrift amount collected in its constituent TAGs. Mahila Mandal Committee may recommend placing of funds at the disposal of the SHGs funds upto three times the thrift collected in all its constituent SHGs put together.

TAG members meet every week and thrift paid or loan repaid is collected and credited in the bank account of SHG of which it is a constituent. Each TAG member is given a passbook. Loan applications are discussed and repayment schedules are worked out in TAG meetings and are forwarded to SHG committee for consideration. SHG committee decides on the loan applications and arranges for disbursement. In case the demand can not be met from the savings made in its constituent TAGS, it seeks funds from BCT through Mahila Mandal. BCT provides funds at @ 12 % and members pay @ 18 % with 6 % shared between TF, CF and MF. It is envisaged that in the long run Mahila Mandal pays for and takes the complete responsibility for all of its activities at the village level.

Mahila Mandal committee meets usually once in every month followed by a meeting of all TAG members meeting which is called a Mahila Mandal meeting. Useful information is disseminated and common action programmes on issues of concern to all members such as anti liquor campaign or taking up contract work or taking common pond or land on lease, etc., are discussed. Arrangements made for non-formal education, health care services, and veterinary services are reviewed.

Mahila Mandals run balwadis, ration shops, raise nurseries and conduct fish farming or run salt-making or “adda” leaf plate making units depending on the available opportunities to utilise their time and to invest their savings. There are instances like restoration of power supply to village street lamps and continue to pay charges for them as local village panchayats failed to do the same either for want of resources or negligence.

d. BCT support for Mahila Mandals

BCT offers the services of a Village Organiser, a Health Worker, a Paravet and an Educational Instructor to each of the Mahila Mandals in the 42 villages it is working with in a gradual manner.

Village Organiser provides the link between BCT and the Mahila Mandal and leads the other workers of BCT in the village. Women Health workers educate the villagers about basic sanitation and attend to primary medical needs and direct patients in case of necessity to hospitals run by BCT at Yellamanchili or at Dimili or at Haripuram or to other private or government hospitals. Women paravets attend to the health problems of village live stock. BCT has a clinic with qualified veterinary doctors to support the paravets it has trained to deal with routine animal health problems.

BCT, at present, feels that in the long run the services of village level workers would be paid by the Mahila Mandals and they will either be working directly or indirectly under their control.

e. Community Organiser – a crucial role

A cluster of 4 to 6 villages is provided with Community Organiser who acts as liaison between the village level Mahila Mandals and supervises the work of BCT workers in the villages in the cluster. Community Organiser attends all Mahila Mandal meetings in the cluster, gets accounts of each SHG in the village audited by a Village Organiser from another village every month and himself audits the accounts, in the villages falling in a cluster other than the one for which he works, every quarter. External audit is done annually.

Community Organiser is responsible for directing the efforts of BCT in the cluster and represents the concerns of village level Mahila Mandals. He recommends placing of funds with them and is responsible for proper utilisation and recovery of loans apart from for regular collection of thrift in the cluster. He guides the income generating efforts of members and usually is a post-graduate with requisite orientation.

Community Organisers are headed by a Coordinator who is in charge of all BCT activities related to community organisation. He directly reports to the Chief Coordinator. This forms the core of BCT structure which functions along with various other functional support services such as Agricultural Services, Health Care Services, Education and Training Services headed by different Coordinators.

Community organisers meet once in every week and with all village organisers once every fort-night for review of work done and for necessary coordination. Villagers have their access to all functional support services provided by BCT through their Mahila Mandals and Community Organising staff of BCT.

(1.6 BCT Activities:) Agricultural Services

a. Panchadharala – an integrated agro forestry demonstration farm

“There is no such thing as waste land but there is only wastedland,” has become one of the most quoted statements of BCT. BCT tried to improve productivity of existing resources and to bring into production otherwise wasted resources. It was realised that Yellamanchili block had 25,000 acres of hill slopes which were totally wasted.

BCT approached the state government for 50 acres of such wasted hill slope on a lease for 20 years. A place where there was 90 % stone and 10 % impoverished soil is now made to grow 126 species of plants yielding a net income of over Rs 40,00 per acre per annum.

This farm in Panchadharala was taken up in 1978 basically as a demonstration of the feasibility and commercial viability of rolling back wasted land into productive use and to educate the people in regard to many benefits that accrue from such an activity.

This is developed as an integrated unit of agro forestry and livestock rearing. Plant species are chosen to meet fodder, fuel and nutritious fruit needs of people. Today it produces a large variety of 40 fruit bearing and fuel/fodder trees, 18 varieties of fodder grass, 20 varieties of vegetables and 25 varieties of flowers apart from being an important source of supply of seeds and saplings at cost.

b. Gokivada villagers wants to follow BCT

In 1979 the second farm in the Gokivada village arose out of the demonstration effect of the above farm. 99 marginal farmers owning 44 acres of fallow land approached BCT and sought help for the development of their land. The villagers realised that cultivation of their tiny pieces of land individually would be uneconomical and offered to lease the land for 15 years for the specific purpose of raising plantations.

BCT convinced one of the nationalised banks to finance the project with great difficulty. After a number of setbacks, the progress had picked up and it is thriving with 12 major tree crops and a variety of inter-tree crops including different varieties of fodder grass. The farmers owning the land have been closely involved in the development of the plantations and crops from the beginning. A committee consisting of five farmers and three members of BCT staff and one bank official is responsible for the implementation of the project. Nearly half of the families worked on the farm for wages and learnt farm management.

The repayment of the loan with interest was made by August 1993, well ahead of schedule. The developed farm was handed over with a sense of fulfillment along with the tree wealth valued Rs 27 lakhs with an advise to hold and utilise it as a common property.

c. Dharmavaram Afforestation Ltd

Dharmavaram Afforestation Ltd is perhaps the only private limited company formed in a village by the villagers. All its Directors are women – 5 village women and 2 nominees of BCT. In 1985 the people of Gorrela Dharmavaram approached Dr Rao with a problem. 170 of them owned 58 acres of wasted land. Could BCT develop it for them?

Dr Rao calculated that it would take some years for the land to be developed and until then the Trust would have to put in a great amount of money while the villagers have to wait for getting something substantial till the lease period is over. Moreover, what is the guarantee that the land will not be fragmented later? So, with these thoughts in mind, he suggested that they form a limited company with plot owners as share holders, one cent equalling one share.

He assured that the company will be financed by BCT and other agencies like the National Wasteland Development Board (NWDB) and the owners may work while the land is being developed.

In the first year the farm generated a revenue of Rs 12000. In 1986 a grant equal to 66 % of the project cost was given by NWDB.

These farms far from being mere show pieces have become places of learning not only for villagers living around them, but also to academics, scientists and administrators from all over the country and abroad. Cashew and coconut plantations have become quite common in the area and farmers from other villages regularly come to BCT for advice.

Water exploration and drilling unit was established to explore the ground water potential and to revitalise existing wells as well as for construction of open wells and drilling bore wells. It did commendable job in 1985. Progress in this vital sector of water harvesting and harnessing of surface water by reviving tanks for benefit of irrigation or of percolation awaits the attention of BCT.

(1.6 BCT Activities:) Education and Training Services

“Education and skill development constitutes the backbone of all social and economic progress and absence of it accounts for the backwardness,” states one of the BCT publications. The first activity Dr Rao took up when he started in 1967 was to establish a high school at Dimili. BCT feels that human potential is curtailed by unawareness due to lack of meaningful opportunities for education and skill development.

The need for providing adult education was driven home to BCT while it was engaged in organising subsidiary occupations for villagers, especially for women. BCT made a survey of 70 villages in early 1978 and proposed 60 centres, under National Adult Education Programme (NAEP). In 1979, BCT started adult education in 21 village centres under NAEP.

a. Non Formal Education

Under the Non Formal Education (NFE) system, thousands of poor children in the villages who do not have the opportunity of going to regular school are getting elementary education.

In 1988-89, the Govt. of India sanctioned assistance for running an NFE project with 100 centres in favour of BCT. Apart from running those centres, BCT was functioning as a nodal agency for several voluntary organisations working in different States for operating what was called the Common Action Programme (CAP). The main component of CAP was eradication of illiteracy. BCT successfully completed a massive training programme of village animators. It organised a conference of voluntary organisations in Bangalore with a view to transform the adult literacy programme into a people’s movement with the slogan ” Each one Teach one”. Although considerable enthusiasm was aroused among the voluntary organisations assembled at the conference, the National Literacy Mission and the Govt. of India decided to adopt a campaign approach and entrust the campaign to Zilla Saksharata Samithis headed by District Collectors and they were required to mobilise volunteers to implement the programme.

BCT was called upon to join and help when Visakhapatnam district was chosen for total literacy. It agreed but confined its field operations more or less to its chosen area realising that with its limited resources it can serve best where it has already established rapport with the people.

However, BCT could not give up its nodal role completely. It continued to oversee and manage the 364 NFE centres entrusted to 10 voluntary organisations in 27 mandals in Visakhapatnam, besides running its own centres in its area of operation.

Review of the programme revealed that the end results in terms of attendance and success in examinations were comparable to those of the formal system, that voluntary organisations were able to secure local support to the programme and that the nodal agency concept worked, by and large, smoothly and satisfactorily. The review also raised doubts about the number of NFE centres beyond a limit with each voluntary organisation and the number of organisations under a nodal agency.

b. Child Labour Rehabilitation Programme

BCT had long wanted to do some thing for the children who were not able to even attend NFE classes. Accordingly, a one year residential programme for children aged between 10 and 14 was developed. During the programme, the children are given elementary education and taught skills which enable them to start income generating activities, given the help of credit and marketing support.

The programme began with 45 children and later expanded to cover a large number of children with the assistance of International Labour Organisation (ILO). Educating these children and providing them with skills that have contemporary economic value, BCT feels, is an investment for future. The fact that quite a few of them are girls is all the more significant as educating girl children and women is more likely the way out for the ignorance and backwardness in the villages. BCT has plans under way to take up a project with ILO assistance to eliminate child labour in about 400 villages.

c. Disabled Children Programme

A survey of villages covered by BCT conducted in 1992 showed a total of 350 disabled children – suffering from a variety of conditions – polio, mental retardation, deafness to name a few. Since the efficacy of an institution based rehabilitation programme has been proved to be partial at the best, BCT has decided on a community based programme where the children could be rehabilitated in their own homes – in effect the rehabilitation of the entire family.

Sponsored by MIBLOU, a Swiss agency, a 3 year community based rehabilitation programme of 100 children has begun. Special training in caring for these children was provided by SANCHAR of Calcutta, a unique organisation with remarkable success in carrying out similar programmes.

BCT has trained several village women to be paravets, health workers, village animators, mid-wives and balwadi teachers. Special leadership training programme has been very successful in teaching women to be self-reliant and self-confident. BCT’s expertise in conducting training programmes for development workers has been recognised by other voluntary organisations and funding organisations both at national and international level.

(1.6 BCT Activities:) Health Care Services

“No progress is ever complete without community health and the latter is generally a casualty due to superstition and ignorance” says BCT. To overcome this, BCT had set up Grama Arogyalayam Trust in 1985 with broad preventive-cum-curative programmes in 100 villages. A mobile clinic takes medical services to the village while a full-fledged, round the clock health care centre is located at Yellamanchili with 5 beds for men and two beds for women. It also has facilities to conduct pathological tests, observation wards, emergency operation theatre and maternity ward with an ambulance and wireless communication system. Centres at Haripuram and Dimili cater to the needs of villagers around them.

As a result of a survey, 60 children afflicted with polio were identified, 7 were operated upon and supplied with calipers along with 13 others who needed them. Adults in villages were screened for hypertension and all those who needed treatment were treated. Under the school health programme, students attending day and night schools are examined and treated for ailments like anaemia, skin infections, etc.

TB patients who are in danger of relapse due to irregular intake of drugs are being specially taken care of by BCT workers. BCT has plans to embark on health education and sanitation. One of the major problems faced is the rapid turnover of qualified medical personnel and the time required for filling up the vacancies. Some eminent specialists from Visakhapatnam extend their unstinting and selfless cooperation.

(1.6 BCT Activities:) Research Services

In order to afford the continuity of research programmes and also to have a well trained research team, BCT established a Centre for Action Research and Transfer of Technology (CARTEC) in 1991. It undertook Fruit Trees Project in collaboration with International Development Research Centre, Canada with clear objectives to try out location specific research on fruit trees with focus on cashew, mango and palmyrah palm. Another aspect of the project is homestead gardening for nutrition intervention.

Community organising staff of BCT are providing the necessary linkages to the research staff in reaching the people. In addition, taking the advantage of information available from different research institutions, and also some of the findings that came out of experiments on the existing plantations, an extension programme consisting of a series of residential training programmes for rural people was organised. The community organising staff and the research staff of BCT have been trained in qualitative research methods like Rapid Rural Appraisal and Participatory Rural Appraisal. Collaboration with AP Agricultural University, Andhra University, National Institute of Nutrition, and Indian Plywood Research Institute has been established.

Right from the beginning, BCT has been trying to bring technological interventions into rural development. Be it the reclamation of the wasted land on hill slopes through integrated agro forestry projects or development of salt-fish-prawn farm in the Vakapadu village, utilisation of science and technology has been in the forefront.

BCT worked on non-conventional energy sources wherein windmills were developed and solar cookers and solar lighting tried out and use of smokeless chulahs promoted. BCT has realised that just getting yields would not be sufficient and attention must now be paid to post-production or harvest technology for further processing and marketing to enable the producer to get remunerative return.

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