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Left to fend for themselves: Leprosy patients forgotten by families now work in orchards

Left to fend for themselves: Leprosy patients forgotten by families now work in orchards
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In a unique move taken up by the Panchayat and Rural Development department, as many as 22 families of Gouripur Leprosy Colony in Bankura have been brought to the mainstream.

It may be mentioned that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has given special emphasis to develop the districts under Paschimanchal Development department.

The members of these families who used to beg for survival after being deserted by their relatives for suffering from leprosy now work in an orchard comprising as many as 3,000 fruit saplings given to them by Panchayat and Rural Development department under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). All of them are engaged in 100 days' work and get Rs 176 per day for 100 days under MGNREGA. After they got cured at Gouripur Leprosy Hospital, their families have refused to take them back. The hospital authorities said despite repeated requests, the family members refused to visit them and denied to take them back home fearing criticism from neighbours.

They stayed for long in the hospital and were later forced to accept begging to survive. They used to beg in Bankura railway station and its neighbourhood areas.

As social stigma is attached to leprosy, people neglected them. Sheer neglect by relatives soon reduced Rajen Roy, Janmenjoy Mahato, Lakshmi Dhar, Latika Duley and Arati Ketrapal to beggars with nothing to look up to and they became residents of Gouripur Leprosy Colony.

The mixed orchard covers an area of 60 bigha of land belonging to the leprosy hospital. Mango saplings including Alphonso, Mallika and Amrapali were given to them along with mandarine oranges and pomegranates for their livelihood. This year, the first commercial harvest is likely to take place which will be around 7 kg per plant. They will receive the sale proceeds for their livelihood. The 22 families have around 93 members. Assistance has poured in from Rukududdin Khan, Pradhan, Anchuri Gram Panchayat with extensive support from Bankura I block and its district administration.

The 22 families will now, get direct benefits from intercropping in the initial years which will be around Rs 9 lakh per vegetable cultivation season assuming Rs 1 lakh per hectare.

The total area would be around 9 hectare. It has been estimated that from 1,650 Amrapali and Mallika mango trees, around 69.3 metric tonne of annual production was expected. It is expected that from mango production after 10 years, the beneficiaries will be able to earn Rs 31.95 lakh per year.

Dibyendu Sarkar, Commissioner, said: "This is one of the best schemes ever implemented in India through MGNREGA for self-reliance of the most vulnerable families."
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