From an Indian village: Greening the grassroots

By Frederick Noronha

GOA, India, June 14, 2004 (ENS): Life in India's half-million villages can be an uphill struggle for the bare necessities, but Hiware Bazar in the federal state of Maharashtra is different.

By taking green ideas to the grassroots, this village of 1,300 people located 17 kilometers (10 miles) from Ahmednagar town in western India, is becoming a vital inspiration in the battle against rural poverty, local officials say.

The village has imposed a ban on grazing and on felling trees, and has undertaken initiatives to conserve water.

"We've had visitors from some 72 countries come and visit our village," says a proud Popat Pawar, the elected village headman.

"I've travelled to about 5,000 villages across India, but have seen none like Hiware Bazar," says Kumar Kalanand Mani, a social campaigner based here in this former Portuguese colony of Goa, which Pawar was visiting in order to share his message with Goa village officials. "It is neat and clean, there are no mosquitoes."

Explaining his success story, Popat said the village has managed to beat back drought and fight drinking water problems.

In Hiware Bazar, they have implemented a drip-irrigation system throughout the village to conserve water and increase food production, and have avoided water-guzzling crops like sugar-cane and bananas.

Soil and water conservation treatments - from contour blocking of rainwater, to afforestation, to trenching on private land, to building earthen structures and percolation tanks - all have played an important role.

"While parts of coastal India [like Goa] which get 100 inches of rainfall each year don't have water to drink, we manage with just 12 to 15 inches of annual rainfall," says Pawar.

Together with the green agenda, the reformers in Hiware Bazar have also implemented a program for social change, which involved banning liquor, family planning, and voluntary labor - called shramadan in India - to improve their village.

Postive results are being reported from the field - the out-migration of villagers to nearby urban areas has been arrested; there is now an influx of families seeking better water, health and economic conditions.

For Pawar, the young man who changed the image of the high-crime village, prone to infighting that was Hiware Bazar prior to 1989, there has been a positive fallout too, personally. He has been elected the village head continuously since 1989 without opposition.

"The ban on grazing increased the production of grass from 200 tons in 1994-95 to more than 5,000 tonnes in 2001-2002," says Pawar. "Likewise, the ban on felling trees has increased the biomass by 900,000 trees. Banning liquor has increased the efficiency of manpower,"

Villagers in Hiware Bazar also decided at their local council meetings to ban the sale of village land to "outsiders," and make HIV/AIDS testing compulsory before marriage.

Pawar says that their experience shows it is easier to carry on such work without an influx of big money.

Today, Hiware Bazar is the winner of the Ideal Village status award presented by the government of Maharashtra, which Mani says demonstrates a practical success based on the ideals of the Indian icon Mahatma Gandhi.

"For many years, people asked us, 'Where is Gandhi's village?' and we had no answer," said Mani, a prominent Gandhian campaigner himself. "But this villages shows that Gandhism is not just a fine utopian concept."

"Ours is an ideal village for the whole of India, and its 568,000 gram panchayats [local village councils]," said Pawar.

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