Villages are not Villains proves 2020 Padma Shri Award Winner, Popatrao Pawar

In the last few decades cities in India have drawn people to them like magnets. The country’s rapid urbanization and unplanned growth led to a distinct divide between rural and urban India. People were leaving their villages due to lack of livelihood, limited education opportunities, poor infrastructure facilities. They left their homes behind for a better life in a big city. Villages had turned into villains. What we saw during the lock down was a reality. Migrant workers who had left their homes to work in cities hardly had a solid ground to stand on. They lost their jobs and had to walk hundreds of miles to return to their villages. Will the villages be able to sustain them? Can we prevent a further mass exodus from villages to cities?

Well, there are some ‘Stars of Rural India’ who have set the ball rolling and one such glaring name that stands out is that of Padma Shri Award Winner 2020, Popatrao Pawar who transformed a poverty stricken village situated in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra in the 1980s, Hiware Bazar, to a ‘green model village’. Today it boasts of highest village GDP in the country.

The importance of Education

Popatrao Pawar born in 1960 was the son of renowned wrestler Baguji Pawar. For lack of higher education facilities in his village, after completing Standard IV in Hiware Bazar, he was sent away to Kedgaon. In Kedgaon, while he studied, he lived with his maternal grandparents. From there he went on to complete his Master’s in Commerce from Ahmednagar University. As years passed, he became well aware of the deteriorating political and social conditions in his village.

The Ground Reality pre-1989 was –

  • 168 of 182 families lived below the poverty line.
  • Acute water scarcity forced farmers to migrate to nearby cities.
  • Local liquor production and sale increased misery, crime, and downfall.
  • Till 1995, only 1/10 of the village land was arable
Popatrao Pawar
Image Credits: YouTube

When roots run deep

Driven by a desire to improve the condition of the village, a young 26 year-old post-graduate Popatrao Baguji Pawar returned to his roots in 1989. In 1990, he won the elections and became the sarpanch of Hiware Bazar.

The first issue he addressed was drinking water. The only two hand pumps were not functioning and women had to walk 2-3 kilometres each day to fetch water. He approached the Panchayat samiti at the Taluka level to install two new pumps which were done.

By 1993, he set up a school for local kids. In 2003, Rohitdas Padir had been adjudged a role teacher in the entire district of Warghade. Government grant flowed in, classes grew and education till Std X became accessible in the village.

Re-emergence of a Livelihood

Pawar knew the village needed to generate its means of livelihood through farming. But how? The problem was Hiware Bazar, located in a rain-shadow area, got less than 15 inches of rainfall a year. A keen Popatrao started to monitor and follow Anna Hazare’s efforts closely in Ralegaon Siddhi.

Getting villagers together, they began with,

  • Permission from Forest Department to build 40,000 contour trenches in the surrounding hills to conserve rainwater and recharge groundwater.
  • Renewed indigenous plantation by planting over 10 lakh trees.
  • Redesigned cropping patterns to have more cash crops and introduced organic farming.
  • Watershed activities that included CCT’s, building of water harvesting structures and social forestry.
  • Formulating and following ‘Four Bandis’ viz Kurhad Bandi (banning felling of trees), Charai Bandi (banning free cattle grazing), Nas Bandi (family planning), and Nasha Bandi (banning alcohol). A new village model was emerging.
Image Credits: Prasanth

Success follows on the heels of hard work

Hiware Bazar is now a ‘green model village’ with 294 water wells. Agricultural farming and cattle farming have become the source of income for the farmers.

The efforts showed promising results like,

  • Discontinued daily water supply from Mumbai (1 lakh litres) and Pune (25,000 litres).
  • Grass production rose from 100 tonnes in 2000 to 6,000 tonnes in 2004 leading to an increase in livestock numbers from 20 to 340 during the same period.
  • Cattle farming produces 5000 litres of milk per day from a meagre 150 litres in mid 1990s.
  • It is a clean mosquito free area. There’s even an open challenge to reward anyone INR 100 for every mosquito found
  • Not one family is below the ‘Poverty Line’. The per capita income is at INR 30,000
  • The first Open Defecation Free village in 1992 leaving far behind PM Modi’s ‘Swachh Bharat’ drive launched in 2014.
  • Reduced HIV since HIV test was made mandatory before marriage.
  • Reverse migration

Wake Up India

Today as the executive president of the Adarsh Gaon Yojna (AGY), Pawar’s mission is to sustain the movement of rural development and make 100 other villages better. I may not be able to directly contribute to the cause but I am honoured to write about him. There are more Pawars and Corporations there who are continually striving to change the landscape of rural India. Hopefully, the coronavirus serves as an eye-opener for us to develop our roots, our villages. After all, villages are not villains!

Let’s Make Villages Liveable Again, Let’s create more Hiware Bazars