“I would say that if the village perishes India will perish too. India will be no more India. The revival of the village is possible only when it is no more exploited. “

– M. K. Gandhi

In 1995, the Adarsh Gaon Yojana was launched. Hiware Bazar in Ahmednagar (Maharashtra) was selected as the village that could be developed as the model village in the district. A befitting tribute, in the words of P. Anbalgan, Collector, Ahmednagar “Hiware Bazaar has become a model village. The Government wants to replicate this ideal across Maharashtra.”  It has become the village with the highest GDP in the country. Each resident of Hiware Bazar village earns almost double of most of the country’s rural population.

Hiware Bazar was not always like this. It used to be a poor village of Maharashtra. But after the drought of 1972, the peace was shattered. People became irritable and restless as the struggle to stay alive became severe. Petty reasons were enough to trigger-off bitter quarrels, as there was so much despair and frustration. Villagers started consuming liquor and it added to their ruin. Many residents migrated to nearby cities to work as daily wage laborers. The local economy collapsed. So did the social fabric that held the village together, in spite of its backwardness. Ninety percent of the villagers migrated. Despondency, hopelessness and unaddressed anger punctuated the villagers’ lives. Lack of water turned the fields barren. There was no governance worth the name. Lack of groundwater and the failure of successive monsoons at Hiware Bazaar, a village of 1,300 people in Maharashtra’s rain-shadow area, made it impossible to grow anything other than bajra. Conditions deteriorated to such a level that no government official wanted a posting there. Barely 12 percent of the land was cultivable and the village would receive hardly 200-300 mm of rainfall. Agriculture and all the allied activities were unprofitable. The existing school was only up to Class 4 and students who wanted to study beyond that, would have to go outside the village.

Popat

You would be curious to know, who is the angel who transformed this backward village, to an ideal one. It was Popatrao Pawar, the only postgraduate in Hiware Bazar. Sensing his potential, the youth pleaded with him to contest for the sarpanch’s post in 1989, but Pawar was not interested. In fact, his family totally disapproved of the idea; they wanted him to go to the city and get a white-collar job. Pawar wanted to become a cricketer as he was a good player and his family also thought he had great promise and would play in the Ranji Trophy someday. But as the youth persisted, he agreed to contest. He was elected unopposed. Pawar realised he had got the chance of a lifetime to usher in change. Inspired greatly by the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Jayprakash Narayan, Anna Hazare, Vinoba Bhave and Baba Amte, he was driven by a deep desire to save his village from desolation and isolation.

Pawar began by asking the villagers to become proactive towards creating their paradigms for development. The village was caught in a pincer of alcoholism leading to frequent brawls and violence. There were 22 liquor shops in the village. He got them closed after convincing villagers that alcoholism had made them poor and addicted. He got the gram sabha to tie up with the Bank of Maharashtra to grant loans to poor families, including those who were brewing illicit liquor earlier.

One of the first things the sarpanch did was water conservation and management as it helped farming and brought in some money. He got the villagers to voluntarily help in rainwater harvesting. Soon, the villagers built 52 earthen bunds, two percolation tanks, 32 stone bunds and nine check dams. “We used state government funds. The volunteer labour programme cut costs and also ensured quality work. It was as if we were building it for ourselves and for our children,” he says.

The idea was to harvest every raindrop as it fell. Being in the rain-shadow region, Hiware Bazar received just about 15 inches of annual rain. Ponds and trenches stopped rainwater from flowing out of the village. After the first monsoon, the irrigation area increased from 20 hectares to 70 hectares. “In 2010, the village got 190 mm of rain, but we managed well because of water management,” says Habib Sayyed, who works on water issues in the village. Water management helped them harvest multiple crops. Before 1995, there were 90 open wells with water at 80-125 feet. Today, there are 294 open wells with water at 15-40 feet. Other villages in Ahmednagar district have to drill nearly 200 feet to reach water.

In 1995, only one-tenth of land in Hiware Bazar was arable. Out of a total of 976 hectares, 150 hectares was rocky. Nature was against them as there were recurrent droughts. Now, even the stubborn land is being tamed with the rocks being removed and ploughed so that sowing can start when the rains come. During this period, he worked to improve the village’s moral environment. Due to village’s bad reputation the administration and deputed teachers for the village school considered as punishment posting – creating an environment not favouring learning. As a result for two months school was locked by the villagers with the demand that the gates will reopen only when the district administration deputes good teachers for the village school. This was their first step in the right direction. Later in the following years, concrete steps were taken by the villagers consciously to improve the standards of education and environment in which it is being imparted.

In 1972, when the village’s percolation tank was constructed under drought relief work, one of the village’s wrestlers was given the task of supervision. In 1982 under the similar circumstances it was repaired. Drinking water for humans and animals gets the highest priority. Budgeting helps the village to be prepared for any eventuality. The types of crops to be sown are decided after groundwater budgeting is complete. Last year, 1.47 crore litres of water was surplus. The village utilised that in June this year for vegetable cultivation.

Out of 217 households only 12 are landless. Total geographical area of the village is 976 ha [about 500 ha is arable] that is divided into three micro watersheds. Of this 70 ha is the forestland, which has been developed while working with close cooperation with the forest department. However, the villager’s persistence made the department to provide joint forest management (JFM) programme to the village and the results are evidently visible to everyone. Under JFM and EGS water and soil conservation works were taken up in the upper reaches. About 52 earthen bunds, two percolation tanks, 33 loose stone bunds were constructed. About nine check dams have also been constructed in a series on the downstream nallah.

Crops grown are jawar, bajra, wheat, onion, potato, and vegetables along with floriculture and horticulture. The diary sector has also registered a remarkable improvement. In 1995, the villages’ daily milk production was 250 liters, which is 2,600 liters now. Even 35 families, who had migrated to Mumbai and Pune, have returned. The most remarkable change is that during the ‘Ganpathy Utsava’, instead of many idols the entire village got one idol, thus saving about Rs 21,000 /=, which were gifted to the wife of a Kargil martyr living in the neighboring village. During the Latur’s quake, the village has generously and collectively donated. Attitudes have undergone a sea change. A novel concept of collective farming called ‘samodayik kheti’ has solved the labour problem.  Instead of employing labour, two or three families work collectively in each other’s farm. Thus, solving the problem of labour and creating an environment of social cohesion, where people readily come together and work together. The village is also maintaining a patch of land where 100 different species of plants are duly preserved.

Between the devil of unemployment and the deep sea of inadequate water supply, the 45-year-old Pawar decided to tackle the latter first. Utilising the employment guarantee scheme, the predecessor of NREGA, the villagers and the Forest Department began constructing trenches along forest areas and planted 4.5 lakh trees. As the forest cover increased, water table rose automatically and the village got the first National Water Award for community-led water conservation from the Union Ministry of Water Resources. Over time, they also built check dams, gully plugs and bunds. The next step was to manage crops and water together. Water guzzling crops like banana, sugarcane and rice were banned while cattle were not allowed to graze in forest areas. Tree felling and open defecation were banned too. Says Pawar: “We allow crops that do well with drip irrigation or those that are rain-fed. Now we also grow vegetables and cash crops like onion and groundnut.”

It took ten long years,but the village is now an oasis in a rocky terrain. Groundwater levels have risen from 80-120 ft in 1995 to 15-40 ft in 2010. The gram sabha tied up with the Bank of Maharashtra to give loans to poor families; some of those making illicit liquor are now dairy owners. The village produces 4,000 litres of milk every day; 83 families have returned since 1997 and there are just three landless families in the village now.

The per capita income has shot up from Rs 832 in 1992 to Rs 40,000 in 2010. Children study up to Class X and the primary health centre is equipped with modern facilities. Once basic infrastructure was out of the way, Pawar swung into action to better the quality of life. “We established health and animal centres and anganwadis. Everyone in the village is aware of the importance of family planning and all couples have to take a compulsory HIV test before marriage, we do not have a single political statue in the village. A mosque was built with the village contributions for our fellow Muslim residents.” says Pawar.He adds that there is no violence in the village, and the female to male ratio is higher. Pawar, meanwhile, has no plans of slowing down. As Executive president of the Adarsh Gaon Yojna, his mission now is to sustain the movement of development and make 100 other villages better.

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