Jhamrun Mahali in Washim district is set to become a model village in Maharashtra's drought-prone, poverty-stricken Vidarbha region. By June, this village, along with 37 others modelled along the lines of the ‘ideal village' Hiware Bazaar, will be completely self-sustainable and thus ready to be called ‘Adarsh gaon' under the State government's Adarsh Gaon Yojana (AGY).
“How long are we going to be talk about Ralegan Siddhi and Hiware Bazaar? Why should we be satisfied with just two ‘ideal villages'? The success of our villages will be when a better village is created,” Mr. Popatrao Pawar, Sarpanch of Hiware Bazaar since 1989, told The Hindu. Mr. Pawar is now the executive director of the AGY, and selected other villages under this scheme. Social crusader Anna Hazare, whose efforts for his village Ralegan Siddhi were an inspiration for Hiware Bazaar, is the adviser for this programme.
A sum of Rs.8 crore has been given to these villages, 13 of which are from the Vidarbha region, known for its high number of farmer suicides. Kohlitola, a village from the Naxal-hit Gondia district has also made it to the list. The funding continues for three years for development works in the village.
A drought-prone village with only about 400mm of rainfall every year, Hiware Bazaar has seen a complete revival in the last two decades. Watershed development was adopted to fight the acute water crisis that the village was reeling under. The increased water levels resulted in a better yield, and more grass for animals to graze. This helped the village to make its way out of poverty by adopting cash crops and marketing its dairy products. This accomplishment has come from utilising the government schemes to suit the village requirements. The village came under the State's AGY in 1994, and since then, has been scripting its own success story.
The story of Hiware Bazaar that began in 1989 will repeat itself in these 38 villages in the years to come.
But being named an ‘Adarsh Gaon' is far from easy.Villages had to give a proposal after which a committee headed by Mr. Pawar inspected the villages. “The villages had to show dedication in the struggle to fight mediocrity. They had to follow all the conditions of becoming an ‘Adarsh gaon'. We chose villages with a revolutionary spark,” Mr. Pawar says.
Villages need to follow strict rules. The process begins with effective water management through the watershed technique and water auditing, taking responsibility of the village's natural resources- planting trees and stopping grazing, contributing labour for the village work, and then expanding to bring about behavioural changes in the people for harbouring social change. Hiware Bazaar is free of any kind of addiction and there are no liquor or tobacco shops in the village. Vasectomy has been made compulsory, as is the pre-marital HIV test.
The ‘Adarsh Gaon' model prides itself of being based on the joint decisions made by the Gram Sabha, where all the villagers are present. Even while selecting the new villages under the scheme, Mr. Pawar made sure that the decision to become an ideal village was taken by the entire village together.
The greatest victory for Hiware Bazaar so far has been the reverse migration that the village has witnessed since 1989. As many as 93 families have come back to the village, “from the slums in Mumbai and Pune” Mr. Pawar says. The village of 216 families was completely below poverty line (BPL) in 1989; now it has only three BPL families.
Speaking to The Hindu, Gulab Gaikwad, from one of the three BPL families, said: “We used to beg for a living and now I am working at the gram panchayats, whereas the other two families work as labour. It is because of our hard work that we will get out of the situation, like the rest of this village.” Speaking about the ‘rebirth of the 38 villages', Mr. Pawar says: “Vidarbha was our priority as the people are reeling under the pressure of land for agriculture. Farmers' suicides have become a norm, and people are becoming complacent because of all the ‘Vidarbha packages' which are obviously not helping. It is time for the villages to wake up and do something themselves.” One of the conditions of the AGY is also that a village cannot accept any government funding without adding some of their own funds to it. After the success of the projects that the villages take up, the funds have to be returned.
Among the other villages selected is Yavatmal's Pandhar Kavda. Yavatmal was the worst affected district with the highest number of farmer suicides. “The women of this village have decided that they will undertake the challenge of not accepting the Vidarbha package and rebuild the village on their own. They have promised that the funds that we have given to initiate the process will be returned to us,” Mr. Pawar said.
Sukru Naik Tanda, an adivasi village in Nanded district, is also part of the scheme. “The idea is to go beyond just water management, and create villages that are worth living,” Mr. Pawar says.
Financial empowerment is also a part of the plan. Hiware Bazaar is a model in this sense too. According to Mr. Avinash Bhatamreka, the branch manager of the Bank of Maharashtra in the village, there are about 80 loan accounts in the village, amounting to Rs.1 crore. “There are no defaulters and so far all the instalments have been paid on time,” he said. In a village economy where ‘sahukars' (traditional money-lenders) are the cause of much distress, banking is one of the many perks of being an ‘Adarsh Gaon'.
Mr. Pawar is hopeful that the process will not stop with just these villages. Twelve more villages have also been selected in the second phase of the scheme. “The aim is to make 50 villages ‘Adarsh' every year,” he states.