SIDART's Exposure and Learning Visit to Ralegan Siddhi, Maharashtra

With an objective to strengthen the understanding of female Sarpanchs and Panchayat members with regard to village development, Society for Integrated Developmental Activities, Research & Training (SIDART), Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, in collaboration Hanns Seidel Foundation, organized a five days’ Learning and Exposure visit to the village, “Ralegan Siddhi” of Ahmadnagar district, Maharashtra from 4th to 8th May 2016. SIDART team members and elected women representatives from Sanganer and Jaipur districts of Rajasthan visited Ralegan Siddhi under the guidance and leadership of Dr. Pramila Sanjaya.

Ralegan Siddhi

Ralegan Siddhi is a village in Ahmednagar District of Maharashtra state in western India located at a distance of 85 kilometers from Pune. It is considered a model of sustainable development for the country. The village is located in the rain-shadow area, the annual rainfall is a meager 400–500 mm. Earlier, this village was extremely degraded and unsustainable. The condition of the village was pathetic and awful. The rainwater, which already was scarce, used to run off and get wasted as the land of the village was barren and undulated. 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 the village. People had few jobs and were engaged into illegal distilling of alcohol.   There were large scale migrations, ill health and alcohol driven violence especially against women. Now the improved view of Ralegan Siddhi can be seen. Increased agricultural productivity shows the importance of sustainable agriculture. Many water harvesting structures have been constructed in the village for conserving water and the villagers 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. Ralegan Siddhi has shown the world how the whole system can stand on its own legs from scrap. It not only demonstrates what village people can do when they take control of their own development but also shows their concern to the environment by evolving sustainable practices. (Source: www.annahazare.org)

Man behind the change - Mr. Anna Hazare 

Mr. Anna Hazare is a social activist and has been awarded with the Padma Bhushan in 1992 for his efforts in establishing this village as a model for others. He has changed the extremely degraded village into livable paradise for the poor villagers. From a soldier to a social reformer, and a right to information crusader, Mr. Anna Hazare’s journey of four decades has been unprecedented in terms of a non-violent yet effective campaign of resurrecting a barren village into an `ideal village’ model and empowering the faceless citizen through pioneering work on Right to Information. His efforts to empower gram panchayats, protect efficient government officers from frequent transfers and fight against the red-tapism in government offices have also received accolades. (Source: www.annahazare.org)

How the change has happened

While in the army, Mr. Hazare used to visit Ralegan Siddhi for two months every year and used to see the miserable condition of farmers due to water scarcity. Ralegan Siddhi falls in the drought-prone area with a mere 400 to 500 mm of annual rainfall. There were no weirs to retain rainwater. During the month of April and May, water tankers were the only means of drinking water. Almost 80 per cent of the villagers were dependent on other villages for food grains. Residents used to walk for more than four to six kilometers in search of work and some of them had opted to open country liquor dens as a source of income.

In 1975, Mr. Hazare decided to dedicate his life for social cause and he believed that 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 in 1972, Late Mr. Vilasrao Salunkhe had started experiments in watershed development and water management in some villages near Saswad in Pune district. He visited that project and was very much inspired. He said, “This visit gave a direction to my ideas and I decided to undertake similar work of watershed development in my village.” By keeping an eye on conserving every drop of water and preventing erosion of the fertile soil, he steered the villagers to begin working towards water conservation. This resulted in increase in the ground water level. After that, Mr. Hazare along with his team worked out the cropping pattern suitable to the quality of soil and the water volume available for farming. This led to increase in the water table by making water available for 1,500 acres of land instead of 300 acres. As a natural sequel, this effort led to yielding of food grains and the villagers became self-sufficient in terms of food. Earlier there was no work available for the villagers, now manpower was required to be imported from neighbouring villages. The changes in the economics brought all the villagers under one roof of unity and people voluntarily contributed in terms of labour and money to build a school, a hostel, a temple and other buildings. Mass marriages, grains bank, dairy, cooperative society, self-help groups for women and youth groups helped develop the village in all aspects and gave a new face to it. (Source: www.annahazare.org)

SIDART – HSS Program

Since Rajasthan is also a water scarce region, therefore the Exposure Visit was planned to Ralegan Siddhi to make the participants, from different panchayats of Rajasthan, learn the concepts and methods of water conservation through watershed development and other practices. The participants also learned innovative ideas of organic farming and other good practices prevailing in the village. Under the guidance of Mr. Rajaram Shankar Gajre, the social activist working with Mr. Anna Hazare for more than 30 years, the visits were made to:

·         Village – “Hiware Bazar”: This village is renowned for watershed management and water conservation. Due to its exceptional strategies of water management, it found a special mention by Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi in a radio program, ‘Mann ki Baat’. The Sarpanch of the village, Mr. Popat Rao Pawar, had also been specially invited by Mr. Modi for a cup of tea. The participants met Mr. Pawar and visited the village to see the developments there. They got to know that the devotion of the villagers for the development of their village is the reason behind the pleasant picture of the village.

·         Sanjivani High Tech Nursery: The participants were able to learn some new methods of nursery farming of which they were not aware of.

·         Kanhaiyya Milk Plant: The participants were able to learn the methodology of the milk plant i.e. milk supply from the villagers, processing of packaged milk, butter, ice cream and other by-products.

·         Development work areas like water sheds, water ponds etc.: The participants were able to learn the role of watershed development program in farming and how the conserved water helps when there are no rains in the area.

The sessions of Mr. S.P. Gaikwad, Advocate, Ahmednagar; Mr. L. G. Auti, Deputy Sarpanch, Ralegan Siddhi and Mr. Mapari Sharad, Teacher, Ralegan Siddhi were held at Hind Swaraj Trust – the Watershed Development and Rural Development Guidance Centre, to discuss Self Help Groups, domestic violence, rights and laws for women and working system of Panchayat in Ralegan Siddhi. The participants also visited the residences of some villagers and discussed about their village developments and their role in that development.

On the last day of the visit i.e. 08.05.2016, the participants met Mr. Anna Hazare and got the chance of learning from such a great personality. Mr. Hazare admired the spirit of the women participants who came a long way from Rajasthan to visit Ralegan Siddhi to learn various strategies of development for implementing in their native villages.  He said that any achievement is not easy; there are several efforts and sacrifices involved. He also faced various obstacles while working for the development of the village and for other national issues like Right to Information Act, Jan Lokpal Bill, Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Aandolan i.e. Public movement against corruption etc. The women participants asked Mr. Hazare how they can work to prepare a model panchayat, by working in their limited capacity. He replied, “Follow the following five rules to achieve the success in their work:

·         Your character should be strong enough to work for your village. 

·         Your attitude should be positive.

·         You vision and target should be clear. 

·         Don’t reply people by words but by your work. 

·         Bare your insult.”

The words of Mr. Anna Hazare influenced the participants in an effective way to achieve their target towards the development of their villages. The participants were thankful to SIDART and HSS to provide them such platform to learn. The visit was full of awareness and information regarding the development works and the active involvement of the villagers gave an eye opening experience to the participants.

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