Archive for the ‘Cooperatives’ Category

Shepherding the shepherds with SMS



Press the menu button, then go to inbox; with the centre key you can scroll up and down. Then you select the message you want to read and open it by clicking the left button,” explains Dada Padu Kachre, a shepherd in Maharashtra’s Phaltan district as he teaches other shepherds to read text messages on his mobile phone.

The message in Marathi says: ‘Take your sheep for vaccination’. Sent by Anthra, a Pune-based organisation that works for the betterment of the pastoral community in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, the messages, sent twice a month, give important tips to ensure sound health of their livestock while they are on the move. Over 170 dhangars — a nomadic tribe — in Maharashtra benefit from the alerts.

“The content in the message is restricted to preventive measures and medication for diseases that commonly afflict sheep and goats. The dhangar community has to deal with common ailments like cold, cough, injuries and fever plaguing their livestock while on the move. Through these messages, we teach them how to make and use simple, herbal medicines to treat their animals,” says Nitya Ghotge, founder-member, Anthra.

The messages, which were first sent in 2006, are composed taking into consideration the season, the epidemics doing the rounds and most importantly, government policies and facilities for vaccination of livestock. “Many, though not all, shepherds have mobile phones. This is what helps us reach out to them. For some reason, many of these people are reluctant to approach the government. Through these messages, we tell them in advance about the vaccinations available for seasonal epidemic,” adds Ghotge.

The Anthra team consists of four veterinary doctors and animal health volunteers from the dhangar community. With an average of 100 sheep per dhangar, the facility directly benefits some 17,000 sheep. “Given the fact that the dhangars live in groups, each dhangar propagates the message to five others. Our data shows that over one lakh sheep and goats across the state are benefited because of the remedies we suggest through the messages,” adds Sachin Hagawane, member, Anthra.

So instead of seeking out mantriks who prescribe long drawn-out rituals for the health of their herds, the shepherds now wait for these messages. Jeevan Dnyaneshwar Kolpe, who travels 60 km every year to reach Aabhepuri village near Panchgani with his 75 sheep, says, “We note down these messages in a diary for future reference. Earlier, for the smallest of illnesses, such as ulcers in the mouth or injuries, we would look for a mantrik, but today we know that a mixture of ghee and turmeric works magic for both these ailments. The farms and the fields we live in have become our resources as nature offers all the medicines.”

Being on the move is not easy. And one of the challenges the shepherds face is charging their mobile phones. Anthra has provided them compact solar chargers-cum-lamps that not only recharge their mobile phone batteries in two hours but double as lanterns. With a number of other activities conducted throughout the year to boost the culture of these tribes, Ghotge says Anthra is a bridge between the government and the pastoral tribes. “We want to work for them, but we don’t want them to become dependent on us. For us, what is really valuable is one dhangar like Kachre who educates others, making the tribe self-dependent,” says Ghotge.


IT Park owned by workers


School drop-outs who once crushed stones at granite quarries have now become the directors of a Rs 600-crore info-tech park in Kerala.

Apart from the directors, 943 manual workers are also part-owners of the Uralungal Labour Contract Cyber Park, a 100-per cent subsidiary of the Uralungal Labour Contract Co-operative Society (ULCCS).

The park, spread over 25 acres in Kozhikode, got Special Economic Zone (SEZ) status early this month.

A major construction co-operative venture in north Kerala, ULCCS has executed several showpiece road and bridge projects. Headquartered in Madappally, a village in Kozhikode district, ULCCS was established in 1925 with 14 members to fight poverty and caste oppression, to generate employment for the poor and the backward.

Over the years, the number of permanent members grew to 950-odd, around 10 per cent of them disabled. All members of the society are daily-wagers from Madappally and surrounding areas.
ULCCS has its own system of enrolling a worker-cum-member. On approaching the society for job, a labourer is first asked to crush stones at the quarries it owns. If the aspirant’s performance is satisfactory, he would be taken in as a member after a year. From the quarry, he would move on to road projects. If his performance is good, he gets promoted—as site supervisor and later as project manager.

M M Surendran, 44, a director of the cyberpark and a Class IX drop-out, joined the ULCCS as a stone-crusher 30 years ago. “After one year at the quarry, I became a permanent member and became a road worker. Later, I became a site leader,” said Surendran, who has been a director of the cooperative for nine years. He said seven other directors of the park have only school education. All members of the society, including the directors, draw daily wages. The directors get 15 per cent more than member workers. Workers retire at 60 with various benefits, said Surendran.

Paleri Rameshan, an ITI certificate holder who joined the society as a site supervisor, is now the president of the ULCCS and the Chairman and Managing Director of the proposed IT Park. “In the future, the society might have to diversify to meet the changing aspirations of the generations to come. For last three years, we have been facing shortage of fresh hands as Kerala youths are least interested in manual work. Hence we logged in to the IT venture as an investment for the next generation,” said Rameshan.

Rameshan said the society used to purchase land adjacent to major project sites to house its mixing plant and other equipment. “Thus, we had bought nearly 15 acres on the outskirts of Kozhikode city as part of the NH bypass work there. After completing the work, the plant site was lying idle. As the society wanted to do something meaningful for the next generation, we thought about an IT park and bought 10 more acres of private land,” said Rameshan. He said the Kerala government had wholeheartedly supported the venture, which would be the first IT park in north Kerala. The profits from the IT venture would also get divided among the members.

To run the proposed IT Park, the labourers’ society has roped in K G Girish Babu, founder CEO of state-owned Info Park in Kochi. “The society is known for its quality work and track record for finishing work on time. Society members have not wasted a single day in its history on labour problems. It is not their educational background, but the directors’ vision that attracted me,” said Girish Babu, who joined the project as its CEO.

The IT Park, expected to give employment for 15,000, would be implemented in three phases. A part of the funds for the project would come from the society’s resources, while the rest would be raised from banks. The project has already advertised for an architect for its green building.

The ULCCS has assets worth Rs 125 crore. Last year, the society executed projects worth Rs 75 crore. The paid-up capital is Rs 4.18 crore, 40 per cent of which comes from the workers and the rest from the government in the form of loans. Ten per cent of the daily wage of a worker is kept apart and converted into a share at the end of the year. Members increase their stake till they retire.

CPI(M) leader and Kozhikode MLA A Pradeepkumar said, “The project would prove that ordinary people can do great things in life.  The social ownership of an IT park may be the first in the country. We would see the park-owners constructing it brick by brick.”