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A Fistful of Rice

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This is what it takes to end starvation deaths in Andhra’s poverty-ridden Warangal district

Women of Katnapalli village in backward Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh have tak­en it upon themselves to stave off starvation deaths. They take turns to collect just a fistful of rice from every village household and then distrib­ute it among the needy.

The two-year-old programme, called Pidikedu Biyyum (a fistful of rice in Telugu), was started by self-help groups (SHG) comprising 600 odd members in a village with a population of 7,000. The movement has now spread to other villages to keep hunger, a major killer in this Naxalite-strong region, at bay.

“Sixty fistfuls of rice can feed three-four families for a week without burdening any of us,” says Yerukula Seethakka, leader of the Sowbhagyalakshmi SHG. Apart from collecting and distributing rice, her group has also raised Rs 3 lakh for loans and runs small businesses to supplement their incomes, which includes making pattal-leaf plates, dairying and vending vegetables.

District Rural Development Authority officials who supervise SHG meetings say the concept has benefited hundreds of poor families facing starvation in the district. The Pidikedu Biyyam programme also helps spread awareness about campaigns against alcoholism, unemployment and illiteracy. Along with delivery of free rice to the doors of the destitute, SHG members also inform them of employment opportunities and enrol them into their groups to avail of cheap government loans.

‘Through the Pidikedu Biyyam programme, we have been distribut­ing 10 kg of rice every week in our native village,” says Fareeda Bi of the Charminar SHG in Hyderabad. Warangal district authorities say the Katnapalli initiative is a boon for widows with large families, old people and orphans. “Even the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme can enlist only families with employable persons and leaves out those who are not capable of physical work,’’ says Rajasekhar of the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty.

Recently, the state rural develop­ment ministry launched plans to introduce a similar program in the Telengana and Rayalaseema districts, which are plagued by starvation problems every summer.