Dear All, It's Time to know about Rakegan Siddhi Village...
Swami Vivekananda’s philosophy has great bearing on Anna Hazare. His thoughts and work have been a constant source of inspiration for him. While serving in the Indian Army, he had decided to dedicate his life to social work, but he did not know how to begin.
While in the army, he used to visit his village for two months, every year during his leave period. The condition of the village was pathetic and awful. The land was barren and undulated. As the village is located in the rain-shadow area, the annual rainfall is a meager 400–500 mm. All of the rainwater use to run off and get wasted. There were no means to harvest this precious resource. Whatever rainwater use to get collected was sufficient to cultivate only one crop on 300–350 acres of land out of a total 2200 acres of land available in village. 80% families were surviving on one square meal in a day.
As food production was insufficient and no employment opportunities were available in the village, some villagers started brewing liquor to earn their livelihood. Gradually the number of breweries rose to 35. They were aware that what they were doing was socially and morally incorrect, but the circumstances forced them to adopt this profession for their livelihood. Some villagers had to walk 5–6 km. each day in search of employment in the nearby villages.
The helplessness due to poverty and indebtedness led people to desperation and ultimately to alcoholism. Quarrels and street fights became daily chores. Hazare’s house was in a hamlet just half a km. away from the centre of the village. Hazare avoided going to the heart of the village due to this pathetic condition. He always felt helpless since he could not do anything to change the conditions prevailing in the village.
When he decided to dedicate his life for social cause in 1975, he believed charity should begin from home. Swami Vivekananda’s words resonated in his mind - people would not listen to philosophical ideologies with empty stomachs. Social change is not possible if people are haunted by the daily problem of making two ends meet. Hazare taxed his brains on how to solve this crucial problem. He remembered that Late Mr. Vilasrao Salunkhe had in 1972, started experiments in watershed development and water management in some villages near Saswad in Pune district. His work used to be frequently discussed in informal gatherings everywhere. So, Hazare visited his project and was inspired. States Hazare, ``This visit gave a direction to my ideas and I decided to undertake similar work of watershed development in my village. ‘’
Hazare then paid a visit to the office of the then Director of Agriculture, Mr. Dikshit, and told him that he had decided to work for betterment of his fellow villagers. He expressed his desire to undertake water conservation work in his village under his guidance. After some days, Mr. Dikshit paid a visit to Ralegan Siddhi along with his subordinates and made a geographical survey. He was convinced that the topography of the village was suitable for undertaking the watershed development programme and took a decision to implement it.
On resumption of the watershed development work in the village, Hazare started supervising the work at sites from dawn to dust, without taking a farthing as remuneration. He considered it as social work; and day by day his experience and knowledge was building up. With his experience and knowledge, he constructed many water harvesting structures with people’s participation. So far, 48 nulla bunds, 5 cement check dams and 16 Gabion structures have been constructed. The villagers under Hazare’s guidance, also undertook fodder development, continuous contour trenches and loose boulder structures on 500 acres of land.
The watershed development work helped in conserving each drop of rainwater in the village itself and in recharging the groundwater aquifers. This ultimately raised the water table. In the same village where earlier it was not possible to cultivate more than 300–350 acres of land for one crop, now the villagers are harvesting two crops in 1500 acres of land. Due to availability of water, the agricultural production has boosted up. The agricultural development has created lot of employment in the village itself. Not only has the distress migration completely stopped, but now wage labourers have to be hired from other villages in order to get various intercultural operations done in time.
Today the villagers have completely given up brewing of liquor. Nobody sells liquor in the village. Further, the shopkeepers do not sell cigarettes, beedies and tobacco too for the last 13 years.
Earlier only 300 liters of milk was sold from the village. Now the milk production has gone up to 4000 liters. This milk is purchased by cooperative and private dairies. This brings in Rs. 1.3 to 1.5 crores (13 to 15 million) annually to the village. The dairy business has flourished as a subsidiary to agriculture which has provided a new income generation avenue to the unemployed youths of the village.
The per capita income of the villagers has increased from Rs. 225 to Rs. 2500. This has completely transformed the economy of the village. The living conditions of the villagers have improved and the gap between the haves and have-nots has narrowed down. After the economic transformation of the village, villagers constructed buildings worth Rs.1 crore (10 million) for school, hostel and gymkhana and renovated the old village temple through financial contributions and shramdan.
Mass marriages are arranged in the village (generally 25 to 30 marriages at a time) in order to curb expenditure. This has helped in removing caste barriers and promoting social cohesiveness.
After the success of watershed development programme in Ralegan Siddhi, Hazare replicated it in the neighbouring four villages. The results are encouraging. Now the same project is being replicated in 80 – 85 villages of Maharashtra. Like any other village in India including Ralegan Siddhi, there was a social problem of untouchability. Today people of all castes and creeds live together in peace like members of the same family. The consecutive droughts led to non-payment of bank loans taken by the Dalit community for agriculture purposes. The bank decided to sell their mortgaged land to recover the loans. At this critical time, rest of the villagers decided to toil on the farmlands of Dalits and repay the loan by harvesting crops. The villagers cultivated their land in 1983-84 and 1984-85 through shramdan (voluntary labour), repaid the bank loan, and saved their land.
In the last 35 years, many institutions and cooperatives like Gram Panchayat, Cooperative Consumer Society, Cooperative Credit Society, Cooperative Dairy, Educational Society, Women’s Organization and Youth Organization, with different mandates are operating in Ralegan Siddhi. Till date no elections were held for the selection of members of these institutions. The members were selected unanimously by the villagers in the Gram Sabha. The Gram Sabha has emerged as a powerful forum for taking collective decisions at the village level. All the developmental programmes are implemented in the village after taking consent of the Gram Sabha.
Since last 15 years, thousands of visitors, not only from neighbouring states of India, but also from abroad, have viusited & are still visiting Ralegan Siddhi to study the impact of watershed development. They include researchers, academicians, farmers, government officials, people’s representatives and students.
While implemainting the watershed program trained manpower is required and realising that there was paucity of trained manpower in Ralegan Siddhi. a training institute to impart training in watershed development was established. So far, about 17–18 thousand people from different states of India have been trained at the Training Centre on Watershed Development.
Ralegan Siddhi should not be viewed from the narrow angle of materialistic development, i.e. structures in watershed or economic development. The developmental process in Ralegan Siddhi is beyond this. There is a social and nationalistic thread passing through the process of change.
The big dams are getting filled with silt due to soil erosion which is the result of uncontrolled tree felling in the catchment areas. No emphasis was given to soil conservation and range development. The top loose soil is getting washed away each year by the rainwater and getting deposited in the big dams. The top soil is the creamy layer of the land. According to scientists, it takes more than hundred years to form 1 inch of top soil. On one hand, this precious resource of top soil is being washed away from the villages; and on the other hand, it is getting deposited in big dams thus reducing the life of the dams. This is going to create many problems in the near future.
All the major cities are supplied drinking water from a nearby dams. All the industries and sugar factories are provided water from the same dams. The hydro-electricity power generation plants are situated on big dams. All these facilities will come to standstill one day when the dams get filled with silt completely. These dams will meet the fate of death; say after 100 or 200 or 500 years. Nobody can avoid this sorry fate. Neither the government nor the people would be able to de-silt these big dams as the back-water spread of these dams is 60 – 90 km. It will not be possible to remove the huge mountain of 90 km. length and 200 – 300 ft. height from the dam site. There won’t be any alternate sites available for construction of new dams. What is going to happen to all these big dams? That is the question.
Transformation of village economy alone could bring in transformation of the economy of the nation. That is possible only through watershed development programme. Today, our concept of development is based on exploitation of environment and humanity. We are dreaming of development by uncontrolled extraction of subsurface and surface resources like petroleum, coal, groundwater, vegetation and aquatic resources.
The growing population is putting tremendous pressure on the available resources. The demands will continue to grow. Villages in India are facing the problem of scarcity of drinking water due to depleted groundwater resource. Water tankers roaming the rural roads for supplying drinking water to villages is a common sight now. If the trend continues in future, one day water will not be available even for supplying by tankers. What will happen to our coming generations if all the resources of groundwater, petroleum and coal exhaust one day?
The development of an individual, family and village is not possible by exploiting environment indiscriminately, but by sustainable use of available resources. Watershed development and water management is the right approach in that direction. Today, every country is facing the problem of environmental degradation. International leaders and scientists are worried about the future of the Earth alike. Watershed development will certainly provide a solution to maintaining ecological balance.
Our idea of development is limited to construction of skyscrapers and wide roads only. On one hand, the height of buildings is going up day by day and; on the other hand, the level of human values is coming down. This is not real development. An individual should be able to stand on his own and at the same time think of betterment of fellow beings, which is true development. One should be able to look beyond oneself, think of one’s neighbour, village and the nation. Today, there is a need to create such individuals who are capable of looking beyond oneself. Such individuals are not created through donations, subsidy and grants. This is possible through local leadership building programme where stress would be given on character, right values and dedication. Somebody has to make sacrifices.
A field full of swaying crop tells us that a grain has buried itself into the ground to give birth to thousands of grains. The grains which do not burry themselves are taken to the flourmill and ground into flour. The grains which sacrifice by burying themselves in the soil, give birth to a swaying field of crop.
From India, Bangalore
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