Promoting women-centric development and introducing departmental convergence has helped six districts win the JRD Tata Memorial Award this year
Home to ancient Buddhist monuments and mentioned in the annals of famous Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang, the Jajpur district in Odisha, today, has more than its share of challenges — an estimated 95 per cent of its population of 1.82 million is rural and there is widespread poverty.
It is, therefore, commendable that Jajpur was recently conferred the JRD Tata Memorial Award for the “best performing district” in the ‘medium population’ category, from among 584 districts in the country. This was to recognise that it had made striking progress over the last decade on 13 developmental indicators, ranging from improved access to sanitation and adoption of modern contraceptive methods to ante and post-natal care and immunisation of children.
How did Jajpur manage to deliver significantly better on health, reproductive health and general development than its counterparts elsewhere in the country? Anil Kumar Samal, Jajpur’s Collector, says it is all about “team work” and “sincere” implementation of government programmes. “We are able to keep girls in school longer and there are hardly any under-age marriages in the district now. The free cycles we distribute to girls when they reach Class XII are such an attraction!”
Retention of girls in schools has many positive impacts. Not only does it create a generation of more educated and socially aware women, it helps postpone the age of marriage and child bearing. Today, Jajpur has a female literacy rate of 73.7 per cent — nine per cent higher than the State average. It has also been able to bring down the number of women bearing over three children by 25 percentage points between the year 2002-2004 and 2007-08, going by District Level Household Survey data.
According to Mr. Samal, there has been a special focus on women of the child-bearing age. “Under Odisha’s Mamata scheme, we provide Rs. 5,000 to pregnant women to compensate for the loss of daily wages and to improve her dietary intake.” These sums are transferred electronically into bank accounts in four stages — Rs. 1,000 in the sixth month of pregnancy; Rs. 1,500 in the ninth month; another Rs. 1,500 after delivery, and a final instalment of Rs. 1,000 six months after the delivery. “We break up these payments to ensure that the money is used for the benefit of the woman, and not to pay off a loan or something,” explains Mr. Samal.
Convergence is the new mantra in Jajpur. “It is all about team spirit. We have combined 13 departments so that they can impact each other’s programmes. Six months ago we gave the horticultural department a role in the Integrated Child Development Services. Vegetables grown by the department on government land were made available to local anganwadis for the benefit of mothers and children.”
Jajpur was one of six districts that won JRD Tata Memorial Awards this time — the others being Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Thoubal in Manipur, Ahmadnagar in Maharashtra, Firozpur in Punjab and North Goa. Two states — Mizoram and Goa — were also recognised for their stellar performances.
Varanasi had to overcome the biggest challenges, including the fact that it has the highest population — 3.8 million — among the award-winning districts. The district’s female literacy rate of 68.2 per cent is nine per cent higher than the State average. Also a larger number of women here are now marrying after attaining the legal age of 18, and the percentage of those with more than three children fell sharply from 52.8 to 18.8 per cent between the years 2002-2004 and 2007-08.
Saurabh Babu, the District Magistrate of Varanasi, believes that personalised health care delivery is the key to change. “Today, our staff contact eligible families and conduct counselling sessions on issues like general health and contraception. We also make available health vouchers that entitle the poor to access free treatment in specially demarcated health facilities. We believe this approach has made a difference.”
Health is a concern for Dr S.K. Karuna Raju, District Magistrate of Firozpur, too. The district has won the award as a district falling in the “non high-focus State” category, that is States that are relatively prosperous and have higher health outlays as classified by the National Rural Health Mission. The approach that Firozpur adopted is to track each case of conception through the pregnancy to at least a year after the child is born.
In both the districts of Ahmednagar and North Goa — winners of the award in the non high-focus States — there is a clear correlation between higher levels of female literacy and better social outcomes. And how did a district like Thoubal, located in the eastern half of the Manipur Valley, and which has often been a site of conflict, win the award for best performing district in the low population category among high-focus States?
According to K. Radhakumar Singh, Thoubal’s Deputy Commissioner, the entire credit should go to local women. “We found that women were far more receptive to new ideas than the men. They are quick to understand and respond to government measures.”
(Women's Feature Service)