Popatrao Baguji Pawar, currently ex-director of the Maharahtra State government’s model village program has led Hiware Bazaar’s transformation from a drought-prone village to a green and prosperous model village. As the former sarpanch of the village, he reproduced Anna Hazare’s Ralegaon Siddhi model of village development. He traversed a long and arduous path in creating the ‘adarsh gaon’ self-governance and self-reliance. He featured in India Today’s cover story as the person who demonstrated how rural water resources could be reviewed. The Hiware Bazaar Gram Panchayat won the first National Award for community-led water conservation in 2007.
Mr. Pawar began his talk by putting forth the notion of the Adarsh gaon, and how it might spur a revere migration movement in the country. He underscored this point with the slogan ‘ Chalo gaon ki ore’, as he feels that with increasing stagnation of development in cities being offset by rising opportunities in villages, people would be more interested in shifting from rural to urban habitats.
He went on to say that he believes in the Gandhian ideal of utopia, and wants to see the people of India not just literate but also cultured. Mr.Pawar had achieved the ODF (Open Defecation Free) status for his village in 1992, long before it became a priority policy for the government. Despite having to operate in a drought-ridden state like Maharashtra, he believes resources can be well allocated and utilised if a feeling of ownership is present among the people.
In conversation with Jasmine Kaur (IPM4 student)
Jasmine – Thank you for giving us your perspectives about rural development. But one must note that often complications may arise during policy implementation due to the problems being so interlinked. For example, poverty leads to poor nutrition which derails people from going to school and hence inhibits their employment opportunities. So if you were to choose one step with which to begin with, which would it be? Which problem do you think should be tackled first so that everything else falls into place?
Mr.Pawar – The most important thing is always community involvement. The government, political leadership and the community have to work hand in hand in order for things to work. Whatever be the problem you’re trying to solve, whether its environment, water conservation, health; the problem begins to solve itself if you keep the community involved. It’s important to encourage people to think of the future. Uni-directional efforts never work. As you said, all these problems are related to each other. If all the stakeholders are involved systematically and given the right roles then policies will actually have some impact. The village panchayat, gram sabha, and other leaders can best implement the different schemes laid out by the government when they are clear about their roles. Then, of course, all this must be followed with social auditing etc.
Jasmine – Here at IIM-I, first-year students are sent for a Rural Immersion Program wherein they live in a village for a week and work with the local bodies to try to solve problems there. While working on the problems of sanitation and hygiene, we came to feel that it is really difficult to change habits of people and convince them to adopt new practices. How do you think one should go about doing that?
Mr.Pawar – It is one thing to create facilities for people. But getting them to use it is all about psychological changes. Our village was declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) way back in 1992, when it wasn’t even a priority policy for the government. Earlier people used to find out to go inside a closed space to do their ablutions. It was very difficult to convince them in the beginning. Gradually, we were able to change the mindsets of about 80% of the people over time. But 20% will always resist change.
We decided to take on this challenge, by using the anganwadi as a point of influence. If the habits are developed among the children at a very early age, it is far easier. As for the older people, we had many community discussions and taught them the benefits of using toilets. We continuously kept in touch with them and informed them about the related social issues.
Lastly, as the sarpanch of the village, I encouraged both my children to lead the way. They would set an example by being very enthusiastic for community cleaning activities. That way everybody else also begins to feel that there is no shame in this and it is actually good for us. The leader should always been an integral part of the community to set a good example.
Jasmine - You spoke about the idea of reverse migration. What do you think are the pros and cons of the same?
Mr.Pawar – There is a big difference in the people of India and Bharat. The people of India have a lot of money but don’t know what to do with it. At the other end, there are the people of Bharat, who wonder daily way to get income and employment from. And the third section of people lies in neither India nor Bharat. They face the greatest brunt of the problems.
Now as far as cities are concerned, they each have a certain capacity in terms of the number of people they can sustain. They are nearing saturation. But on the other hand, villages have so many untapped resources which can be harnessed to provide basic amenities to people. We have to recognise that urban infrastructures will collapse if they are pushed beyond their limits. That is why it is important to develop our villages as proper alternates for habitation.