Strong will, firm determination and honest efforts produce exciting results. This has been proved accurate by the villagers of Baripada under Dhule district in Maharashtra. At the time when most of the villages in the country continue to wait for government agencies to come and transform their lives, the villagers here, under the leadership of a youth, Chaitram Pawar who reshaped their destiny and evolved a model of development, which is now being emulated and studied even by foreigners, writes Pramod Kumar.
In the election period every section of the society is seen pushing its agenda and trying to get its demands accommodated in election manifestos. The political parties also waste no time in making promises, without bothering whether they could be materialised or not. But Baripada Village of Maharashtra is a different one. None from this village expects anything from the political parties or government agencies. Rather they have made the government agencies to come to them to learn how they reshaped their destiny.
Baripada, which faced severe scarcity of food, water, forest cover and employment till early 1990s, is now writing new story of development and self-reliance. About 10 to 15 people from other villages come to this village everyday to know how the villagers have done a wonder. A professor from Germany is staying in the village for some time to study this model of development based on local know-how.
Most of the farming in the village is based on cow and no hybrid seed is used. The indigenous seeds give astonishing output here. This can be a good case study for the ‘scientists’ who are mad after hybrid seeds and now even want permission for trails of poisonous Genetically Modified (GM) crops.
The revolution here began with curbing deforestation of 450 hectare of forest near the village in 1993 by contributing Rs 3 by every family and shramdan. Illegal cutting of trees had turned the hill near the village almost barren. A mechanism was created declaring punishments to those who cut the trees and awards to those who prevent it. Two most elderly persons were appointed watchmen to check deforestation. 50 acres of the forest land was set aside for grazing. As a result thick forest started surfacing within two-three years and in1997-98, the Forest Department came to the village with an award of rupees one lakh to the village. The Department also legitimised their informal village protection group under its Joint Forest Management Scheme.
The second step which too proved equally revolutionary was curbing water scarcity. The work began by constructing small check dams. So far, 480 check dams have been built. The experiment not only proved beneficial for storing water for future use but also curbed soil erosion. Later the villagers dig 5 km long and one meter deep canal for recharging ground water level. The entire work was done through shramdan. The result of all these activities is that the village which used to fetch drinking water from 3km in early 1990s now supplies water to five surrounding villages. Steps were also taken for financial empowerment of people. The experiment of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) proved highly beneficial. Five SHGs are involved in rice marketing alone. The latest drive is for alcohol de-addiction. The families which fed themselves by preparing and selling country-made alcohol were requested to shift to fishing. As a result alcohol production has completely been curbed. Now work has begun for biodiversity conservation. The people also initiated a plant diversity register process in October 2004 to monitor the plants found in their forests. They have identified 14 different sites from the forest and initiated vegetation mapping through a 100 sq m quadrant. A group of UN Development Programme (UNDP) is to visit the village shortly to study the biodiversity conservation work. The integrated development process has multiple facets. Night schools were stated for adult illiterates and the primary school was reopened. An absent student is fined Re 1 per day, while the teacher is fined Rs 51 per day for absent. Festivals are celebrated together and the village organises marriages together to save money. Sports competitions are also held, not just to enjoy games but also to disseminate the message of self-development in surrounding villages. As a result similar experiments have begun in around 20 nearby villages.
This small village, with just 108 Vanvasi families and 785 population, is located at the border of Maharashtra and Gujarat and is about 97 km from Dhule district headquarter. The brain behind the whole revolution is a post graduate youth of the village Chaitram Devchand Pawar, who instead of doing any job in city, chose to stay in the village and organised the villagers for self-development. “We cannot draw desired results as long as we continue to depend upon government for help every time. The best option is to start self and create the situation when government runs after you,” says Pawar.
When asked about the motivation he received for this wonder, Pawar says, “After completing my graduation I was preparing to shift to a city for job. But Dr Anand Pathak, who runs Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram health centre in a nearby village, reminded me of my duty to my village. The same day I dropped the idea of shifting to city and decided to stay in the village only.” Later Pawar also joined the Kalyan Ashram work and is now president of its Devgiri Prant unit.
Apart from Kalyan Ashram, Janseva Foundation also extends full cooperation to the villagers in cultivation updates on rice, potato, wheat, vegetable and other cash crops. The Foundation also helps in undertaking community-based development activities like building improvised toilets, setting up kitchen gardens that uses recycled water, etc. Apart from an example of integrated village development, Baripada shows how the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram is changing the mindset of people in Vanvasi areas across the country motivating them to be the creator of their own destiny.