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Fund-starved IRDP fairs lose sheen

S.R. Praveen
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Restructuring of schemes underNRLM may not be beneficial

Though the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP), the Union government’s self-employment programme for the rural poor, ceased to exist in its original form in the late 1990s after its merger with the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY), the annual fairs across the State during the festival season still retain that name.

But with the stoppage of the flow of funds to these schemes in view of the restructuring of the Yojana to form the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), the fairs have lost some of their sheen of yesteryear.

On a visit to the IRDP’s Onam fair here, the common concern raised by most of the block officers and the beneficiaries was about the withering away of an once effective scheme and doubts about the effectiveness of the NRLM.

Abandoned

“The IRDP had so much thrust on promoting individual master craftsmen and rural artisans who are experts in everything from black smithy to carpentry. The arrival of the self-help group model expanded this to a much larger scale. But over the past few years with the plans to converge all such schemes under the upcoming NRLM, these schemes are almost in an abandoned state,” S.L. Padmakumar, Block Development Officer of the Perumkadavila block panchayat, says.

George Jacob, Project Director of the Poverty Alleviation Unit in Thiruvananthapuram, agrees with this sentiment.

‘Political compulsions’

“The funds for the Yojana stopped coming in the past year. The follow-up actions on the individual units at the local level have ceased. The IRDP and the SGSY in the later stages were implemented through the village extension officers who took care of even the last detail. But with the arrival of the new programme, political compulsions could play some part,” Mr. Jacob says.

‘Nothing new’

Veteran beneficiaries of the IRDP say there have been no new products coming out of these schemes for the past few years.

“I don’t remember the last time I saw a new product at these melas. The situation was different some years ago with vibrant new ideas coming up quite often,” a beneficiary says.

The SARAS national-level mela in the past two years inadvertently played its part in some beneficiaries not taking part in this year’s IRDP mela.

Role of SARAS

“The SARAS mela had place for only select beneficiaries. So the rest of them went for panchayat-level melas. In my block, the numbers have reduced from 20 to nine this year,” says a block officer on condition of anonymity.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has weaned away some beneficiaries with the steady income that it promises.

Notwithstanding all these, the name IRDP keeps returning to the town centres every festive season.

“The name IRDP generates a lot of good vibe and brings back memories of the successful Onam fairs of the past decades. It also stands for quality unadulterated products straight from rural areas for the city folk. So the name has stuck on despite the programme itself ceasing to exist,” says one of the old IRDP beneficiaries.

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