Pratibha Acharya rehabilitates 250 slum—dwellers in Vidisha, MP
Demolition of jhuggi clusters by civic agencies is a routine affair in almost all cities. Such drives are carried out to keep the city clean and slum-free. But does it achieve any objective as these people again create jhuggis at the same place after two or three days? Sometimes the civic agencies offer them alternative plots free of cost. But they again come in jhuggis making money out of the plots. This circle continues and the number of jhuggi-dwellers also continues to grow everyday. Now some political parties have started promising flats to these people at the same place where their jhuggis exist. But the question is will it resolve the problem?
Government statistics reveal that the number of people living in slums has more than doubled in the past two decades and it has now exceeded the entire population of Britain. Latest census (2011) defines homeless households as those which do not live in buildings, but live in the open or roadside—on pavements, in hume-pipes, under flyovers and staircases, or in places of worship, mandaps, railway platforms, etc. Among the larger states, Rajasthan has the highest proportion of homeless people and has had the least success in reducing this proportion along with Haryana and West Bengal. Four states — Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh — account for about half the country’s homeless population. Chandigarh and Delhi record a high proportion of homeless in their population — 0.39 per cent and 0.28 per cent respectively. The lowest proportion is found in Mizoram (0.01 per cent) and Andamans (0.02 per cent). Meghalaya, Assam and Kerala, each have a proportion of 0.04 per cent.
Smt Pratibha Acharya of Vidisha has found a noble solution to this problem. Since no government agency or bank provide loans to the people living in jhuggis due to various reasons, she took a loan of Rs 80,000 from a regional rural bank in her name and purchased a plot about two km outside the city. Then, she started providing small plots to the slum-dwellers whose jhuggis were demolished by the civic agencies. Started in 2003 at Kraiyakhera, she named this initiative as Mini Bharat. She fixed installments from Rs 100 to 500 and provided plots only to those who really want to get rid of that hell-like life.Keeping in view the financial
condition of these people, she took another interesting step. She wove all the families into a village-bond and tried to help them earn money by providing services to each other. She also helped many to start their own work, so that they can earn sufficient money. The result of these activities is that the whole village is self-reliant. All the houses have toilets and handpump for drinking water. The work of installing the handpumps is done by one Pramod who does it on easy installments. Similarly, Veer Singh runs a flourmill. Chhotibai looks after the village temple.
“Who lends so much money to a poor and old person like me today? She not only provided us house, but also an employment,” said 70-year-old Munnibai whom Pratibhaji provided a cow at just Rs 11. Munnibai sells the one time milk of the cow to the local people and provides second time’s milk to Pratibhaji to repay the loan. When enquired about the recovery of the loan, Pratibhaji said, “All the people were supposed to repay it in three years. But majority of the people could repay it in seven years, and everybody repaid.” A temple has been built in village to generate the feeling of equality and harmony. Since there is no priest in the temple, all people irrespective of caste and creed perform puja there. Keeping the temple clean is the responsibility of 70-year-old Chhoti Bai. After losing her 18-year old son in an accident she was very much upset. But now she is a member of Pratibha’s family. Whenever she visits the village, she definitely has a cup of tea with Chhoti Bai. Seventy-five-year old Omwati’s husband was a halwai. Now he is no more. Pratibhaji provided Rs 10,000 to Omwati to open a grocery shop. The shop now provides all daily use items to the villagers. By and large the village is almost self-reliant in many aspects.
Every house of Pratibha’s Mini Bharat has its own story, which begins from ‘having nothing in the past’, but ends with ‘now have sufficient’ to live a simple life. Pratibhaji received full cooperation from her husband Shri Krishnakant Acharya who is an employee of Vidisha Municipality in this task. “Being a middle class lady, I have tried to transform the lives of 250 families through this initiative. If other people also take similar steps, we can change the lives of thousands and then lakhs of people living in slums. If we start such projects at different places, none will remain without a roof in the country,” she says while talking to Organiser.
Buoyed over the initiative, Smt Acharya is now working on another project, which she has named as Sampanna Bharat. Under this project, the people who are neither middle class, nor below the poverty line will be provided built-up houses on half of the market rate. Pratibha’s experiment shows India cannot be made slum-free only by providing free plots or flats. It needs a different approach of raising the inner self-esteem.
— Pramod Kumar