Sinlung /
19 December 2013

The scheme that won Congress Mizoram

What does the scheme seek to achieve?
The basic aim is to stop traditional slash-and-burn cultivation by providing an alternative, mainly through financial and logistical support. It has, however, come to encompass a wider objective by providing start-up funds of Rs 1 lakh each (promised in installments both in cash and kind) to families of farmers, small businessmen or small industrialists.

How does it work?
Beneficiaries can choose from any of 53 trades ranging from growing specific crops to setting up a shop, rearing animals or building small manufacturing units. Funds are allocated by the department under whose purview the trade falls. It is the beneficiaries, not government employees, who choose the trade from a list identified for their geographical areas. Also, it is a board, not bureaucrats, who look after disbursement of funds. The installments are in either cash or kind. For example, if a beneficiary wants to raise cows, she is given money to build a shelter, then provided cows and then money for feed. The government calls NLUP one of the first direct transfer schemes as funds go directly into bank accounts, and sometimes through cheques.

Who stand to benefit?
Any family without a member holding a government job is eligible. The government roped in civil society organisations to identify potential beneficiary families and also keep out those already well-off and earning from nongovernmental sources. In reality, however, many such people are beneficiaries.

What is the scheme's reach?
Till date, 1.2 lakh families have been given NLUP funds through four phases, although apart from a few trades in the non-agricultural sector, the vast majority have only just received part of the funds with instalments still pending. Given Mizoram's population is 11 lakh, these 1.2 lakh families would make up a large chunk of the population.

Who funds it?
The government calls NLUP a convergence scheme for which Rs 2,800 crore was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs at a special meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, and says more than Rs 2,500 crore of that is footed by the Centre as part of centrally sponsored schemes. The opposition says it is merely funded by money available to the state no matter which party is in power. In the run-up to the elections, all opposition parties promised to continue NLUP on coming to power.

When did the scheme begin?
It had been conceived as far back as in 1984 by the Mizoram People's Conference. Successive governments have since built upon it under various names, such as Garden Colony (Grow more food) under the MPC, NLUP under Congress, Jhum Control under Laldenga's Mizo National Front government, again NLUP under Congress, then Mizoram Intodelhna (self-sufficiency) Project or MIP under Zoramthanga's government and, once again, NLUP after the Congress's return in 2008. What the current regime has done is widen the list of possible trades, extend the reach and oversee the scheme's progress at various stages.

What remains to be done?
An unfinished component, apart from pending instalments, is marketing. Collection centres for farm produce remain to be set up, although private players have shown an interest in being part from regulated markets. Some officials are keen to set up processing units for fruit products that rot easily or are difficult to transport.

Does all of Mizoram welcome the scheme?
There has been some criticism. One allegation is that the Congress does not disburse funds unless beneficiaries first join the party; the Congress denies discrimination. Also, some church denominations have said the scheme "makes people lazy" and that many misuse the money.

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