The tale of a Indian village where 25% of the residents are millionaires (in terms of Indian Rupees) and a HIV test is compulsory before every marriage.
“It was known as the village of criminals,” the old villager informed us as he turned his wizened face towards us. We were in the once-inconsequential village of Hiware Bazar, located in the drought affected region of Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district.
“Decades ago, water scarcity was a severe problem. There were no crops or fodder for the animals. There was poverty all around and most villagers preferred to migrate to neighbouring towns. Those who didn’t, turned to alcohol and crime. Levels of crime increased to such an extent that we were called the village of criminals. Everybody was disillusioned” he continued as he showed us around.
The entrance to the village is dominated by the Gram Seva building. This building is replete with information about the village, including a list of to-dos and don’ts for the unsuspecting visitor. Within the Gram Seva building is a medium sized room full of numerous awards that the village has won over the decades.
The process of transformation started almost twenty years ago when disillusioned with the growing poverty and dismal prospects in the village, a group of students encouraged a twenty-six year old boy called Popatrao Pawar to become the Sarpanch of the village. Popatrao was the most educated person in the Hiware Bazar, having completed a Master’s Degree in Commerce. His ambition was to become a cricketer but he decided to put his ambitions on hold and in 1990 got elected as the Sarpanch of Hiware Bazar. His family was not at all happy about this and they discouraged him from being the Sarpanch of a criminal village. However Mr Pawar decided to take up the challenge and in doing so he set the village on its path of transformation.
Mr Pawar’s biggest challenge was getting the villagers on board to tackle the problems that faced them. He managed to put together a small team of students who selflessly worked with him to repair the broken down village school. The villagers did not fail to notice this dedication and little by little, Popatrao managed to gain their trust. The turnaround in the village’s fortunes had its roots in several events and people who worked in tandem to bring about the transformation.
Mr Popatrao happened to be in the village that day. He readily agreed to meet us and told us the story of his village’s transformation. Mr Popatrao Pawar’s love of cricket is still very much alive and was evident by the huge poster of Sachin Tendulkar that he had in his meeting room.
The Adarsha Gaon Yojana (Model Village Scheme)
Inspired by Anna’s success in transforming Ralegan Siddhi, the Government of Maharashtra set up the Adarsha Gaon Yojana or the model village program in 1995 under the guidance of Shri Anna Hazare. The main aim of the program was to make the villages happy, healthy and self-sufficient with help from Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) and Government departments. This scheme was based on five Gandhian principles of rural development:
- nasha bandhi – ban on alcohol production and consumption
- kurhad bandhi – ban on cutting trees
- chaara bandhi – ban on free grazing
- kutumb niyojan – family planning
- shramdan – voluntary work
In order to be eligible for selection, villages had to satisfy certain criteria:
- Villages should be located in drought area with shortage of drinking water as the main problem
- Villagers should take an oath to follow the five principles.
Mr Pawar applied to the Adarsha Gaon Yojana program and Hiware Bazar was selected to be included in the program. From then on water conservation was made a priority. Keeping this in mind, the use of tubewells/borewells was banned. Growth of water intensive plants like sugar canes and bananas was discouraged. The water was budgeted and audited annually. The total amount of available water was measured and its use was estimated. Water for drinking was given the highest priority followed by irrigation and storage for future use. All decisions were made by the village council and it was mandatory to follow them. Even school students, right from the primary level had to take a compulsory course on water literacy. The watershed management that the village implemented was so effective that the village became famous the world over. The total cost of the watershed development program sanctioned by the Government of Maharashtra was around 6.60 million, from which the village paid around 2.10 million through shramdaan. The villagers did not have to depend solely on rainwater anymore and took the first step towards self-sufficiency.
The villagers were encouraged to plant more trees. Farm land could not be sold to any outsider. The Government helped by building more wells. An increase in the number of wells led to an increase in irrigated land. Little by little, the grass production went up. This encouraged people to buy more cows, which caused the milk production to increase. The use of cow-dung as a fertilizer was encouraged. There were a few families who did not own any land and could only do farm labour. They were given free fodder throughout the year which encouraged them to take up dairy farming. In the mid-1990’s, milk production was just about 150 litres a day. It has touched over 4,000 litres a day today. The income of the villagers increased around 30 times. Several villagers were now in a position to take up bank loans. The villagers started to own more land causing several of them to become millionaires. The barren, dry village was soon transformed into a green, thriving, self-sufficient one.
Sanitation was made a priority. More than a hundred public toilets were constructed. Each public toilet could be shared between three families. Private toilets were constructed for families that could afford them. Two health camps were held throughout the year where the villagers were treated free of charge.
Education was made a priority. Previously girls could not study beyond the seventh standard but education facilities for women slowly expanded with a few of them going on to study medicine. The post of Sarpanch is reserved for women every alternate term. The village has 100% literacy and is now aiming to be 100% computer literate. Mr Pawar worked tirelessly to bring about a change in the mind-set of the villagers. Dowry and Casteism were banned and instead several community marriages were organised between various castes. HIV testing was made compulsory before every marriage. Villagers were encouraged to celebrate and participate in each other’s festivals. The village had a few Muslim families and the villagers decided to build a mosque for them. The village does not see any violence and has no political affiliations. In 2008, the Gram Sabha passed a resolution requesting the avoidance of using cars within the village to save fuel, urging villagers to use cycles instead.
We took a walk around the village and its uniqueness was evident at every turn. This village is immaculate with small, pink houses dotted all over and in this village, the name of the lady of the house appears before the male – on every single house. Another small step for womankind! The women have their own bhajani mandal (devotional songs) and even their own dairy society. Neat bungalows located in shady, leafy areas were prominent. A Smrutivan offers the bereaved a chance to plant a tree in the memory of their loved one.
“We do not need a hospital because we never fall ill,” was the proud declaration of one villager. Though a hospital was nowhere on the horizon we did come across a veterinary clinic. Not surprising for a village that relies on cows for its livelihood.
Hiware Bazar managed to turn around its fortunes so drastically that it saw reverse migration. Several villagers who had relocated to nearby towns came back to Hiware Bazar. With a population of only 1300, Hiware Bazar has managed to accomplish a lot. Mr Pawar now provides leadership to the Government’s adarsha gaon yojana. The aim is to make around 300 villages self- sufficient along the lines of Hiware Bazar. The first hundred villages have already been selected for this. When asked whether there were any other such ideal villages, he shook his head.
“It needs the combined efforts of the villagers and the sarpanch in order to make this happen”, he said. Given his role, he is determined to give the villages, the push towards self-sufficiency, that they need.
What struck me about both Ralegan Siddhi and Hiware Bazar was the approachability of their famous leaders – Mr Popatrao Pawar in this case. He was willing to meet ordinary folks like us and answered all our questions. He seemed passionate about the 100 villages that the adarsha gaon scheme has taken on. He is under no delusion however. He realises that villages can only become adarsha with the relentless, combined efforts of its residents and Sarpanch. It had taken Mr Pawar almost twenty years to transform his village and he is hoping to get that number down to just a few years. Here’s hoping for a few hundred more adarsha villages!
List of Awards won by the village
(Reference: http://hiware-bazar.epanchayat.in/ )
- 1. Ideal Village & Best leader Award-1998, (State level, Govt. of Maharashtra.)
- National Productivity Award-1998 (For Bringing the waste Land under production, Govt of India.)
- Vanshri Award-1998-99 (State level, Govt. of Maharashtra.)
- Dainik Lokmat Award-1999
- Sahyadri Bhushan Award-2001 (For Best performance in Environment & social field.)
- Comrade Sahane Master Award-2002 (For Best performance in Environment & social field.)
- Adarsh (ideal) Sarpanch State level Award-2002 (R.R. Aba Pratishtan, Sangali.)
- Vasantrao Naik Watershed Award-2002. (For Best performance in Watershed Development field)
- Maharashtra Foundation Award (America)-2004 (For Best performance in Social work)
- Maharashtra Jal-Bhumi Award-2004-05. (State level first – Govt. of Maharashtra)
- Mahavir & Mahatma Award-2005 (From Maharashtra Jain Organisation)
- Phule-Ambedkar Award-2005.
- Jijau Award-2005
- Dalit Mitra Award-2006-07 (State level, Govt. of Maharashtra.)
- Saint Gadge Baba Gram Swachhata Abhiyan – 2006-07. (State level first – Govt. of Maharashtra)
- National Water Award-2007 (National level first- For Best performance in Watershed Development & Water Harvesting, Govt of India.)
- Sant Tukaram Vangram Award-2007 (State level first For Best performance in Forestation, Govt.of Maharashtra.)
- Krushiratna Award- 2007 (State level first – for best work in Agriculture Development
- Abasaheb Nimbalkar Award-2008 (State level -Ahmednagar District Co-Operative Bank )
- Mahatma Phule Water & Land conservation Award- 2008. (State level first – Govt. of Maharashtra)