Ramesh Menon¬†reports on a village in Maharashtra that witnessed an exodus after a severe drought in 1972, but did an amazing turnaround
CAN A¬†poverty-ridden village where alcoholism and crime are rampant turn into a showpiece of change and prosperity? Seems highly unlikely. In Hiware Bazar in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, however, you will see such a miracle in progress.
Hiware Bazar conjures up images of a bustling marketplace, but a few years ago, it was one of the most drought-prone villages of Maharashtra. Today, the rich and prosperous village is a shining example of how sustainable development and change can be brought about with common sense and determination. In 1995, the monthly per capita income was around Rs 830. Now, it is Rs 30,000. The village, which has 235 families and a population of around 1,250, now also boasts of 60 millionaires.
The cement houses along well-planned, clean roads are pinkish brown. There is a sense of discipline and order. Liquor and tobacco are banned. So is open defecation and urination. Every house has a toilet, a fact that few Indian villages can boast of.
The fields are lush with maize, jowar, bajra, onions and potatoes. Hiware Bazar is an oasis in a drought-affected area.
But, it was not always like this. Let us rewind to its dark past. ‚ÄúWe lived in a poor village, but were happy with our simple lives,‚ÄĚ recalls Raosaheb Rauji Pawar, 85. ‚ÄúBut 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 our ruin. Many residents migrated to nearby cities to work as daily wage labourers.‚ÄĚ
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‚Äô lives.
As India ushered in economic reforms, showing perceivable changes in both urban and rural areas in terms of opportunities, the youth in Hiware Bazar wondered if they were fated to remain in the shadows. There was no governance worth the name. Or leadership. The sarpanch was just a figurehead, too old to function. As the youth discussed the state of affairs, they felt it was worth experimenting with a young sarpanch who could bring in a whiff of fresh thinking and visionary zeal.
Popatrao Pawar, 52, was the only postgraduate in Hiware Bazar. So, the youth pleaded with him to contest for the sarpanch‚Äôs 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.
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.
‚ÄúOurs was a simple village with happy families. But lack of water turned our fields barren,‚ÄĚ remembers Laxman Pawar, 71, a farmer. ‚ÄúOut of desperation, people started to drink, gamble and fight. Liquor had ruined us. When the illicit dens were closed, we knew there was hope.‚ÄĚ
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. ‚ÄúWe 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,‚ÄĚ he says.
From Rags to Riches
PER CAPITA INCOME 1995 – Rs 830 2012 – Rs 30,000
NUMBER OF WELLS 1995 – 90 2012 – 294
BPL FAMILIES 1995 – 168 2012 – 3
MILK PRODUCTION PER DAY1995 – 150 Ltrs 2012 – 4,000 Ltrs
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. ‚ÄúIn 2010, the village got 190 mm of rain, but we managed well because of water management,‚ÄĚ 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.