“I consider my work as my god”

Pankaja Munde belongs to a prominent political family of Maharashtra. She is the daughter of the late Gopinath Munde. As a state Cabinet Minister handling ministry of Rural Development, Women & Child Welfare and Water Conservation, Pankaja has made a name for herself as a mass leader and now she has taken over her father’s political mantle. She spoke with Chitra Sawant on various issues like malnutrition, woman empowerment and gender equality.

What measures is the government taking to control malnutrition deaths in the state?

The real challenge lies in implementing the government policies effectively at the ground level, which should reach the people. Instead of making a political statement on this issue which will please people, it is important to concentrate on ensuring that the malnourished children should be provided with the required nourishment. We are trying to implement policies of the Central and the State government. Since last 15 years the focus was not on the diet.

Can you elaborate on which policies your department is going to concentrate?

We are implementing Take Home Ration (THR) scheme by following guidelines of the Supreme Court and Central government. The Supreme Court had issued guidelines on the quality and hygiene of the food supplied to malnourished children. As per the guidelines, we have made a design to grade the Self Help Groups which are making THR into three categories i.e. A, B and C. SHGs which are not doing well are categorised in C category, those which are likely to improve are graded in B category and projects doing well are graded in the A category. Projects in C category are being scrapped for not fulfilling the required norms, projects falling in B will be given a chance to improve. We have invited tenders from SHGs who are fulfilling the criteria. Those SHGs which are not able to fit in the SC guidelines will not be encouraged, whereas those following SC and Central guidelines are most welcome. We are focusing only on providing right diet to malnourished children.

Since automated plants will be required to be set up for producing THR, do you think SHGs will able to bear the cost of such a huge set-up?

Self Help Groups can generate income and sustain it by choosing other options like making jewellery, designing clothes, footwear, food products, etc. But in order to provide right nutrition to children, THR is the only option available with the government. Hence, there is a urgent need to ensure quality in this scheme.

The government is trying to involve corporates in implementing several schemes of the women and child department.

During a recent conference which was attended by the Chief Minister, Governor, Finance Minister and me, it was decided that corporates will roped in to help the government implement its policies. The budget which the corporates spend under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can be routed to implement schemes related to water conservation, eradication of malnutrition, education and may be health. The Government aims to channelise the CSR funds effectively.

In spite of several measures taken in the past, female sex ratio in the State is still skewed.

Since 2009 I have been working on generating awareness on this issue in my constituency. I come from a district which has the least number of girls in the state. ‘Mazhi Kanya Bhagyashri’ scheme which was developed and introduced by me to stop female foeticide has a budget of Rs 154 crore for a year wherein parents having only daughters are awarded and rewarded. Under this scheme we are encouraging education of the girl child and providing several benefits to girls.

Child marriage is still being practised in some communities in the state.

Child marriage does exist amongst the sugar cane workers because of illiteracy and lack of awareness on social issues. Also, as these families migrate there is problem of providing security to young girls. Since the entire community believes in a custom it is difficult to keep a check on them. ‘Gopinath Munde Sugarcane Workers Welfare Corporation’ has been started which will look into developmental aspects of the sugarcane workers and their children.

Do elected women representatives at the local level have the power to take decisions? We still find husbands of elected representatives taking decisions.

There is a basic difference between politicians and local representatives, politicians are independent personalities who have their own mind. Elected representatives can be heading a position for one or two terms. Nearly 20% women entering politics are coming on their own, the percentage is increasing. The reservation policy is helping women, they are getting chance to enter politics, this lot which is getting voted to power is a pilot generation, we have to give them breathing time. When there is a constituency reserved for women, a male candidate who has hold on that particular constituency encourages a woman relative from his family, in case if this woman is voted to power there are chances her husband takes major decision.

What would you like to say on dynasty politics?

If one has sound experience of politics because you come from a political family, people criticise you saying it is dynasty. But the same dynasty is accepted by them if they feel it is a good representation. However, people have the right to reject the dynasty; they have the right to vote.

This year several areas in the state are facing a drought-like situation, what are the measures taken by your department in this regards?

Jalyukt Shivar campaign is the flagship scheme of the Water Conservation department which will be implemented till 2019 in drought-prone areas across the state. Last year we had nearly 6,000 villages under this campaign by investing over Rs 1500 crore we chose to build small irrigation lakes, tanks, check dams, irrigation wells which saved 24 TMC water. If we seek to save 24 TMC water by building a dam project we have to invest nearly Rs 4800 crores. We saved money and energy on rehabilitation of the villagers and building canals, etc. by opting to work on this campaign.

What is your stand on the Shani temple controversy?

Discrimination against women is not good. It was wrong not to allow women to enter the temple and it was wrong to cleanse the temple. Not allowing Dalits in temple is wrong. We should shift focus to more developmental issues. There are bigger issues and challenges to be looked upon. Rape, molestation are bigger issues, I prefer work on tangible issues. I am proud of being a woman. Women should be made strong and society should give equal status to women.

What would you say as to why still women are not given equal status in the society?

We should follow those great men who believed in gender equality. Equality between the two genders should be our message; women should be made to feel equal. All these years, women were deprived of equality and now some women feel it should be the other way round. Women can be both strong as well as beautiful, look at Sushma Swaraj and Sonia Gandhi they look so elegant, are full of grace and yet so strong.

Do you mean to say focus should be on trying to find God beyond the idol?

I consider my work as my God. Even if I am able to help 10% people I meet daily I feel I have done my duty properly and have met my god in the process of helping people. When we touch feet of the Warkaris, they touch ours in turn, they seek god in human beings it is such a beautiful example. We should be able to differentiate between superstition and faith.

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