It is very unlikely to be seen miracles happening, especially where everyone almost lost the hope. But as we heard that if we help ourselves even God help us to come out of that problem. It is proved by a very small village named Hiware Bazar, it is also called as the Village of Millionaires.
Only a few years ago, Hiware Bazar was one of the most drought-prone villages of Maharashtra. In 1995, the monthly per capita income here was around Rs 830. The local economy and the social fabric of the village were in tatters. Ninety percent of the villagers migrated. “Ours was a simple village with happy families. But the lack of water turned our fields barren,” Laxman Pawar, a farmer told Tehelka. “Out of desperation, people started to drink, gamble and fight,” he added.
Popatrao was just in his mid-twenties and his family wanted him to take up a white-collar job as they saw no hope of him doing well if he stayed on in the village. As it was, 90 percent of villagers had already migrated. Hiware Bazar was no place to live in. Popatrao Pawar, the only postgraduate here, reluctantly contested the gram panchayat elections and became the Sarpanch. Taking charge, he convinced the villagers to shut down the 22 liquor shops in the village, and got the gram sabha to tie-up with the Bank of Maharashtra to grant loans to poor farmers. Popatrao started rainwater harvesting and water conservation programs. The villagers built 52 earthen bunds, 32 stone bunds, and 9 check dams. With rising groundwater level, the village started to prosper.
Hiware Bazar: A Village of 60 Millionaires.
Watershed management has also helped them harvest multiple crops. Trees were planted before the rains every year. Ponds were dug up to store rain water that gradually enriched the water table. Soon, they had created 52 earthen bunds, two percolation tanks, 32 stone bunds, aFnd nine check dams. Before 1995, there were 90 open wells with water at 80-125 feet. Today, there are 294 open wells with water at 15-40 feet. Villages in Ahmednagar district drill nearly 200 feet to hit the water.
Popatrao says that by Hiware Bazar’s definition, there are 12 BPL families. The village considers a family under BPL if it cannot have two full meals a day, cannot pay for children’s education and cannot afford health-care services. He told that in next couple of years the village will be BPL free village.
The cement houses along well-planned clean roads are pinkish brown. There is a sense of discipline and order. And that strict order applies to open defecation and urination. Every house has a toilet, a fact that few Indian villages can boast of. Many houses use biogas, doing away with polluting fuel. The fields are lush with maize, jawar, bajra, onions, and potatoes. Sugarcane and banana cultivation are not encouraged as these crops demand lot of water. Hiware Bazar is an oasis in a drought-racked area.
There is no doctor in the village. “There is no need of a doctor here as everyone is healthy. No one can fall sick when the streets and houses are clean. We do not have open sewage systems, garbage lying around or open defecation which spreads disease,” he says. There are no sweepers hired by the village. Yet, the streets are clean as everyone chips in to keep it that way. It has become a culture to live in clean surroundings.
In 2007, the village won the National Water Award for community-led water conservation. The water audits determine which crops can be grown in a season, says Shivaji Thange, who works with the watershed committee.
The village has just one Muslim family and as there was no mosque for them to offer prayers, one was built for them. Banabhai Sayed and his family take part in all Hindu festivals and effortlessly sing Hindu bhajans.
While tangible changes are visible, it is the intangible lessons like changing consciousness, redefining political goals, willingness to sacrifice personal interests for the common good and cohesive which help the villagers to become millionaires.
Popatrao has now been made chairman of Maharashtra’s Model Village Programme that aims to create 100 villages like Hiware Bazar. He says he succeeded because of the participatory approach adopted and embraced by people who decided what they wanted and brought in need-based feasible plans. “I took 21 years to transform my village. Now, I have zipped the strategy to take just two years. With community participatory approach, we can create a new era of rural change.”
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, a UN report, points out how looking after nature makes both economic and ecological sense. Hiware Bazar has shown how it actually works. It has also shown what a good leader can do in a leadership-driven society like India.