A Triumph Against Usury

Monday, March 31, 2008

One of the gravest issues haunting the social structure of rural India is the exorbitant rates of interest on loans lent to poor people by local money lenders (mahajans). The interest rate can be as high as 120% per anum which is more than 10 times of what is being charged by the banks. Think of a rickshaw-puller who earns Rs. 2000 per month and has to pay back Rs 500 per month as interst on a loan amount of Rs 5000 which he had taken for a surgery. We are really feeling a sense of accomplishment by having established a proper machinery of credit among our Jagruti ladies.

As it was discussed earlier, each of the ladies will have to come to attend a weekly meeting every Sunday at 3.30 PM irrespective of the presence of any student representative from IIT. In each meeting everybody has to deposit Rs 5 towards a common pool which is meant for meeting the monetary needs of the members in case of any exigencies. If a lady comes late or fails to attend the meeting without giving a prior information then she will have to pay Rs. 2 as fine. This idea was being implemented since last three meetings of the ladies and the money thus pooled got its first beneficiary within a month of the conceptualization of the idea.

Dolly didi is one of the members of Jagruti. Since last 10 days her husband is hospitalised due to some serious illness. As he is the only bread-winner of the family (he is a rickshaw-puller in IIT campus) so Dolly didi had no other option but to seek credit from somewhere. Now, this time instead of going to any local moneylender she asked for a loan from the Jagruti fund. As all the other members of the group were well acquainted of the illness of her husband everybody readily agreed to lend her Rs 200 from the fund. For the first time Dolly didi did not require to knock on the doors of any money lender to lend her money and that too on an usurious rate.

It was later decided that in case of similar emergencies all the group members are entitled to take a loan not exceeding Rs. 1000 for a period of 3 months and the interest rate would be Rs 2 per hundred per month (in the language of rural people) or 24% per anum. The interest has to be paid each month and the principal amount can be paid back in installments.

Though I know it will be very difficult to uproot the evils of unorganised and unregulated money lending mechanism in rural India but I can definitely say that slowly but surely Jagruti will be able to accomplish this as well.

Posted by TS at 10:02 AM 1 comments  

A word of appreciation

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The JAGRUTI team extends its sincere thanks to Prof. Goutam Saha ( Dept. of Electronics and Electrical Communication Engineering, IIT Kharagpur) for appreciating our endeavors through the medium of an article in his blog.
Thank you sir.


Posted by TS at 10:41 PM 0 comments  

All initiatives coming together under one platform

So, as per the plan we had a seminar cum faculty-student interaction session on 25th of March in S N Bose Auditorium. Thanks to all my team mates who did a wonderful job in promoting and organizing the event. The wonderful logo and poster was designed by Reshmi (have a look below on the previous article to get a glimpse of that poster). Jyoti, Vertika, Kanika, Indira,Ujjwal and Vikram did an excellent job by publicising the event among the faculty members and students. Hats off to Ujjwal who conceptualised such a marvellous video and that too within an hour. In spite of this commendable effort by each one of us we could not attract more than 50 people to the session. We also had a few faculty members in the audience whose presence encouraged us a lot.

The event started with a welcome note by Reshmi followed by a presentation by myself. We had a spell-bound audience when the video was being played just after the presentation. It touched the heart of everyone present in the audience. We then invited one member of each of the other such initiatives to brief the audience about the projects they had undertaken. Manish from SAMBHAV, Kunal from Gopali Youth Welfare Society (GYWS) and Narsimha from KADAM IIT Kharagpur presented their projects before the audience. The dias was then handed over to Ms. Yuveka Singh who is working with Praajak, a Kolkata based NGO, to introduce Praajak to the audience and brief them about the association of her organization with IIT Kharagpur.

After this we had an interaction session between faculty members and students. The agenda of the discussion was to formulate a mechanism to integrate all such social initiatives being carried out by students of IIT Kharagpur under one umbrella to have a greater impact. It was where a dream of having "Technology Social Initiative" within our campus got a ground of reality. I am grateful to all the faculty members, and Prof Goutam Saha (EECE) in particular, who blessed us with their invaluable guidance. Our student friends who took the pain of coming to the session came up with wonderful suggestions and feedback. Thanks to them as well.

Despite the fact that we had a poor turn out, we were quite satisfied after the session was over as we achieved what we intended to. We wanted to introduce these initiatives to each other so that if not now but in future they would join hands and make a noticeable impact. Apart from this we got some 20 names (including faculty members) who were willing to contribute in all forms to various of our projects. Now is it not a true JAGRUTI?

Posted by TS at 10:01 PM 0 comments  


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Posted by TS at 9:40 PM 1 comments  

Join us on 25th March, 6PM at SN Bose

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Jagruti: A Social Initiative by Students of IIT Kharagpur

"they say that charity begins at home. What we are doing is not charity, but Kharagpur is definitely our home."

60 yrs of Independence and what have we to show for it? Whenever it is 15th August or 26th January, newspapers make such a fuss over this question and then within no time forget about it. In the year 2000, United Nations came up with a set of goals called the Millennium Goals. One of these goals was to reduce poverty by fifty percent till 2015. Well, half that time has already elapsed, and we seem to be nowhere near the goal. Our neighbor Bangladesh, on the other hand, is right on track. As perfectly put by Prof. C K Prahlad of University of Michigan “Why is it that with all our technology, managerial know-how, and investment capacity, we are unable to make even a minor contribution to the problem of pervasive global poverty and disenfranchisement?”

Why such initiative and Why in IIT Kharagpur?

As IITians, we have a bigger loan to pay off to our country because we enjoy more subsidies and better resources from tax payers' money. We are a highly educated and technologically sound community, with intelligent students and learned professors. We have an influential and very affluent alumni base. As such, we are perfectly positioned to turn around the face of, at least, rural Bengal. However, the benefits of education are not crossing the boundary of our campus; and where IIT Kharagpur should have been the epicenter of a huge social revolution; we are still just another college, another IIT.

Current scenario

There are at least nine social initiatives currently operating in Kharagpur under various names. However there is not much awareness about any of them in the Campus. While many people might be willing to help out with such projects, often they don't come into contact with the right people at the right time. As a result, most initiatives die out in the initial phases due to lack of work-force and excessive load placed on a few people.

What we can do

We need an organized platform where such groups can come together and make keener efforts towards a well defined goal. We need to combine innovation and technology to come up with specialized solutions for local problems. For this we need interested and dedicated people, with the required know-how. In campus the student's schedule is generally packed with academics and various other responsibilities. Thus we need an arrangement and understanding within the student community so that everyone can contribute; more importantly, contribute according to their capacities and choices. Some might prefer one-on-one interaction, while others may prefer group activities. Similarly, different people will want different levels of involvement. Only with proper arrangement and a single platform such a system can be achieved.

Our vision

If Prof. Yunus at Chittagong University could do it for Bangladesh, why can’t we for India? A few years down the line, we hope that the entire region around IIT Kharagpur will be home to more economically sound households. We aspire for better educational, employment, medical and vocational facilities for the people. We hope for a more involved community, where today's beneficiaries will be tomorrow's benefactors. We want that this initiative sparks a series of such initiatives in various other temples of higher education in our country so that these centers for excellence become the pioneers in ameliorating the condition of billions at the bottom of the pyramid.


Join Us at:

Venue: SN Bose
Date: 25th March
Time: 6 PM

Posted by Himanshu at 8:22 AM 0 comments  

Porapara again

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On 3rd March, as was discussed earlier, we went to Porapara again but this time with an objective of studying the source of raw material required for our business. Ujjwal, Himanshu, Sharma ji, Kanika and myself reached the village around 3 PM. After a search of half an hour we could locate the particular households whose members were involved in sal-leaves plate business. We talked to them, mainly ladies, at length and came to know that that was a wrong time of the year to look for the raw materials. Every year during late February and early April the Sal trees shed their leaves and hence the quality of the leaves deteriorate consequently leading to a rise in the price of the sal-leave plates. The current rate of the plates were 12-13 paise per plate. That was within our estimated cost analysis but still the profit margin was getting reduced considerably. We also learnt that the cost reduces to a minimum of 8 paise per plate as opposed to 6 paise mentioned by Mr. Bhattacharya. Here we learnt a lesson again. We should not accept anything only on the basis of its face value. We should dive deep to get the real picture.

We then moved to meet the group of women who were already doing what we intended to establish with our set of Ravindra Palli ladies. This group was formed by another such student group of IIT Kharagpur. We met the ladies and discussed the reasons due to which they had to discontinue the activity. We came to know that the group comprised of wives of the farmers whose primary source of bread was cultivation. So the reasons which we could make out were:

1) The sal-leave plate business was secondary source of income. So they were not putting their heart and soul behind it.
2) Due to less volume of production the per head profit margin was not significant.
3) Frequent disputes among the ladies and poor attendance during the production.

On top of all these we learnt that the variation in the cost of the end product that is the molded sal-leave plate did not vary proportionally to the cost of raw material. The average selling price of a molded sal-leave plate varied from 32-35 paise per plate as opposed to 30-60 paise according to our cost analysis. But, this was only in the local market. On further research we came to know that the returns are much higher if the end-product is sold in south India. Though the market in south India was appearing quite lucrative but we could not target that market at the very beginning. So, the things were getting clear.

* The profit margin is not so high due to existing system of production.
* The profit maximization is dependent on volume of production.
* Discontinuity in production is disastrous.
* A mechanism is required to ensure coherence in the group.
* We will have to modify the current system of production to reduce the input cost.
* We will have to look for alternate raw materials apart from sal-leaves, other leaves or for that matter, paper!!!

Posted by TS at 10:09 AM 0 comments  

The First Trip to Porapara

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The midsems had just gone over and we were again geared up to get back to the work we had started. Our next step was to study the market from where the raw material would have to be procured for our new business. From the research we had done and the information provided by Mr. Bhattacharya we came to know that Kharagpur had got abundant source of sal-leave plates. The tribals (Mahato)residing in the remote villages of Kharagpur and adjoining Bankura are involved in this business. The nearest such village is Pora Para. This village is some 11 Kms from IIT campus.

It was the evening of 29th February when I got a call from Pranidhi (one of the contributors). She wanted to have an idea of the activities we had undertaken by visiting the sites personally. Since she has invested her money in the business it was her right to inquire about the ventures we were putting her money into (though she never intended to do this [:P]). On March 1st, she along with her friend Shruti came to IIT campus. We took them straight to Ravindra Palli where they analysed the prospects of our association with those 20 ladies. We utilized their presence for handing over the first profit earned by Jagruti group and both of them ,i must say, were really thrilled to be the ceremonial chief guests.

After the meeting was over we decided to visit Porapara village. We had two objectives behind this visit. The first was to distribute some clothing collected by us among the leprosy patients of one leprosy hospital run by Missionaries of Charity in the same village and second was to have a look on the availability and abundance of the raw material for our new business. I must thank Mr. K K Sharma, one of our well-wishers, who arranged a cab for the visit. His dedication towards social cause is really appreciable.

As mentioned earlier, this village was some 11 Km from our IIT campus. Pranidhi, Shruti, Indira, Vertika, Himanshu, Ujjwal, Sharma ji and myself reached the leprosy hospital around 3.30 PM. The serenity of the ambiance was peculiar in itself. We were greeted by an old man who surprised us with his fluent English. He then introduced us to the Brother who was the in-charge of the hospital. The kind of glow that appeared on the faces of the people residing in that hospital campus after seeing we people filled us with immense sense of accomplishing something great. After a brief introduction we went straight to meet the patients. Firstly, we met the female patients. The wards were neat and clean and every care was made to make those patients feel at home. We were astonished to know that those people had been abandoned by their family and to no one's surprise they were not willing to go back any more and wanted to stay there for ever. We then visited the prayer hall of the Hospital and subsequently the male ward. The duskiness prevailing in the ward at 4 in the afternoon was taking us by surprise. When we asked the Brother why he had not switch on the lights the reply was really appalling. He said that the hospital had got no electricity supply. They had been deprived of electricity supply since the hospital came into being. The reason as stated by the Brother was the hostile attitude of the neighboring villagers who did not let the WB State Electricity Board to install transformers on the land coming under their possession. The hospital had to install two 25KW generators to meet the power requirements which functioned only between 6 to 10 PM during the night. We were finding it really difficult to imagine a situation in which we had to spend the night in the hot and humid climate of Kharagpur without a fan running above our beds and mosquitoes entertaining us though out.
Anyways, we had now to come up with a solution. I am open to be criticised and advised. Please leave a comment if you have an idea how to solve this problem.

a) Try to persuade the villagers to give a piece of land along their campus boundaries. But I think that this may have been tried earlier as well. Shall we give it a try again?

b) File an RTI on the behalf of the hospital questioning WBSEB about the reasons why it has failed to supply electricity to the hospital when there is absolutely no problem regarding the penetration of it in the nearby villages.

c) Install a dual-mode gassifier which runs on bio-mass which is available in plenty in and around the hospital. This gassifier also has a provision of diesel run generator in case there is shortage of biomass.

It was 5.30 in the evening already and Pranidhi and Shruti had to catch a train back to Kolkata so we had to drop our plan of finding the sources of raw material for our business. While returning to the campus we stopped by the house of one of the PANCHAs to discuss the issue but unfortunately he was not there that time.

On the journey back to campus I was brooding over the very nature of problems existing in rural India. I had come to Pora Para with altogether different objective and while returning back I have added one more issue to be paid attention to immediately.

Posted by TS at 5:49 AM 2 comments  

Pradan: Professional Assistance for Development Action

Friday, March 7, 2008

Still excited and tired of my journey to 'Balrampur' (Barabhum railway station) to visit and see operations of self help group of PRADAN. Visit was most satisfying and encouraging opposite to what I expected. I was exposed to one of the most professional systems at grass root level and more importantly I witnessed effect of ideas on human life. Only then I could appreciate the value of money and water.

So many a times we were asked and told that enter this sector of development (I like this word rather then calling it social service), later in your life when you are successful and rich (may be). Sounds logical but then wouldn't I miss all of their hardwork and trust? Where will I get the satisfaction of helping thousands of family to get 12 months of food supply? Where else will I notice their faces beaming with confidence? How will I realize the hardships and value of human life?

Ok fine cut the lecture, let's focus on what we learned. Basic thing is that many of misconceptions were broken.
1) Social service sector rather development sector does have professional career path and learning curve.
2) To solve some problem you need to understand it first thus we need people on grass root who are educated and trained.
3) This sector is not about leaving everything behind but just like any other job you need to make certain compromises.
4) Surely this is one of the most satisfying job.
5) Technology and innovation are key to tackle poverty.
6) Human spirit is immense.
7) Education doesn't make you intelligent just provide you with information.
8) Rural India is beautiful :D

To be continued...

Posted by Himanshu at 12:09 AM 0 comments