Kothapally and Raj Samadhiyala

To come out of the mental agony created after reading the lead article-‘The elephant must remember’ of the Outlook’s special edition on the ‘state of the nation’ about ‘the other India’, I tried to dig deep and found some stories that helped me recover.

The people of two villages got luckily empowered and participated to change their destiny.

Madhavi Tata has come out with the story of Kothapally.

In 1998, Kothapally, the village in Andhra Pradesh Rangareddy district of Andhra Pradesh faced a severe water shortage. Kothapally had no tanks, its wells ran dry, crop yield plunged and villagers came to accept abject poverty as their lot.

A year later, the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) chose Kothapally for an experiment in a community watershed scheme. The villagers were initially wary as they thought tanks would lead to flooding. So, the institute built an earthen check dam on common land at a cost of Rs 35,000. The benefits started accruing in the first season itself. A group of six farmers could realize the potential and decided to try icrisat’s advice. In six months, “the wells were gushing with water and our yields were much higher”. Others were willing to give water conservation and soil management a shot. Within years, groundwater level rose 27 per cent, yields went up, farmers could grow post-rabi and post-kharif crops like vegetables and flowers, and earnings quadrupled. The villagers now own 40 autos, six tractors and five lorries to transport their produce. And Bijili Laxmi, a marigold farmer from this village has a drastic change in her daily routine. ‘From getting up at 5 am daily and trekking 6 km to fetch water, she now just has to turn the tap.’

Lola Nayar has another story in her article that is all about the sorry state of affairs of ‘the other India’ but for this story of the combined attempts of NGO and the people that are making a change in the rural hinterland-albeit very slowly:

Almost on the opposite side on the India’s map is Raj Samadhiyala, a village 20 km from Rajkot in the drought-prone Saurashtra region of Gujarat. From being a poverty-stricken hamlet, its 2,000-odd dwellers today harvest three crops, including 20 varieties of vegetables. The personal annual incomes range between Rs 50,000 and Rs 12 lakh. The primary healthcare centre works to full attendance, each house has a toilet, water connection and drainage system, there’s full enrolment in the local primary school, and the village is safe and secure with no reported thefts.

The credit goes to Hardevsinh, a post-graduate who chose to stay back to change the village. He says, “I bridged the gap between the panchayat and the people by setting up village community leaders. These leaders were accountable for results from their respective communities.” The village was able to introduce water harvesting, build 45 checkdams, create a network of farm ponds and percolation tanks that raised the water table over the years

Further down, Ashish Kothari, a member of environmental action group Kalpavriksh, his article, has also some good news from another village in Maharashtra.

Hiware Bazaar, near Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, started harvesting rainwater and re-vegetating the hills around it in the 1980s. Prior to this, it had to beg authorities to send water tankers in summer. Today, it provides clean drinking water to all its residents, and irrigates much of its agricultural land. All village children now attend school and health facilities have improved considerably.

Several hundred villages in the Alwar district of Rajasthan have achieved water self-sufficiency and increasing agricultural stability through water harvesting structures promoted by the Tarun Bharat Sangh.

Marginal farmers (many of them Dalit women) in seventy-five villages in Zaheerabad area of Andhra Pradesh’s Medak district had to migrate elsewhere for work. But now, after over 15 years of sustained efforts by villagers aided by the NGO Deccan Development Society, there is self-sufficiency in food production, which has generated several thousand human-days of work. Remarkably, this has been done by reviving traditional seed diversity, linking up the production of traditional cereals to the public distribution system, and promoting organic farming.

In Orissa, researchers looking at satellite images of forest cover have noticed a marked improvement in some parts of the state. This is due to the untiring efforts of villagers to reclaim greenery. They have also initiated 10,000 forest protection committees with little or no outside help. Their motivation? Improved availability of fuel and fodder, revitalisation of water sources and greater control over their immediate lives.

Other such initiatives have sprung up across many states: protection of sea turtle nesting sites in Orissa and Kerala, people’s sanctuaries in Rajasthan and Nagaland, conservation of black buck, cranes, or waterbirds by communities in Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Orissa, Bihar and elsewhere.

While many of the above examples are initiated by villagers themselves, there are also many that have been catalysed by government officials or NGOs.

It excites me and makes me hopeful. I wish some thing could happen faster covering the whole of rural and urban poor. The question before the people who are in leadership and also those who matter in keeping them in those roles is a simple one.

Will such models be replicated in lakhs of other villages that need it badly? Can the energy of all those NGOs, corporate houses, and institutions be synergised to speed up the process?

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