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Badminton court, parks, CCTV — how professor-turned-sarpanch transformed Haryana village in 5 yrs

Khurdban sarpanch Yuvraj Singh, 32, believes his education gives him the confidence to express demands to authorities, and to keep villagers informed about govt schemes.

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Yamunanagar: Five years ago, there was nothing special about the small village of Khurdban in Haryana’s Yamunanagar district — the public amenities were basic at best and the quality of life in general was far from satisfactory. All that has changed now.

Today, the residents of Khurdban have an array of facilities at their disposal, including a badminton hall, fitness centre, two community parks (including one reserved for women and children for the better part of the day), and several shops built by the panchayat (village council) to provide both convenience and employment.

CCTV cameras around the village instil a sense of security, and the brightly painted anganwadi (rural childcare centre) is well-stocked with toys and even an LCD screen.

What changed in five years? When you ask the villagers to explain Khurdban’s transformation, a common thread emerges: a young, educated sarpanch (village head) who has managed to motivate residents into participating in the development of their village.

Bright artwork adorns the primary school in Khurdban | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

Yuvraj Sharma was only 27 years old when he was elected as sarpanch in 2016. A science postgraduate, he quit his post as an assistant professor of electronics at Maharishi Markandeshwar (deemed to be) University in Mullana, Ambala, to focus on his sarpanch role.

He told ThePrint that he contested the panchayat elections in order to better the conditions of the village, where his family still lives.

“I don’t have a political background and had no intentions as such to enter politics or become a sarpanch. But, migration from villages was an issue that bothered me, and I thought that it only happens because there are not enough facilities for people in the villages,” Sharma, who is now 32, said.

Under Sharma’s leadership, the village panchayat has won the central government’s Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Sashaktikaran Puraskar (2017, 2019), and the Nanaji Deshmukh Rashtriya Gaurav Gram Sabha Puraskar (2018), besides the state government’s Six Star Panchayat Award (2019).

The village head has also been invited twice by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj to train newly elected panchayat members in Haryana and Jammu & Kashmir.

Also Read: At 21, Parveen Kaur became Haryana’s youngest sarpanch, set up CCTV cameras & kids’ library

Visible results

About 30km away from the busy town of Yamunanagar, a narrow road leads to Khurdban village. Surrounded by lush green fields, the village houses about 2,500 people, with the majority of households engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry.

When ThePrint reached the village at noon, many of the residents had congregated for a wedding at the community centre, which was built by the gram sabha. It’s one of several recreational spaces in the village.

Behind the community centre, there’s a badminton hall with two courts that anyone can access (although players need to get their own racquets and shuttlecocks) and a fitness centre where the monthly membership fee is Rs 150.

The badminton hall and fitness centre at Khurdban village, Haryana | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

Another highlight is a 2-acre park with neatly cut grass, fountains, swings for children, and even an open gym. The park is bound by walls and a large entrance gate that opens and shuts at designated timings. It is primarily reserved for women and children except for small windows in the morning and late night.

Isro Devi and Angrejo Devi, who are regulars at the park, say they enjoy using the open gym. “We are getting some good facilities here, especially now that we have the park to ourselves. We love coming here to relax after a long day of work to take a walk and chat with friends,” Isro Devi told ThePrint.

On the educational front, the village has two government schools — one primary school for classes 1 to 5 and a senior secondary school for classes 6 to 12.

While several government schools in Haryana suffer from a lack of basic infrastructure, like clean toilets, and are poorly maintained, Khurdban’s schools are kept in good shape, with walls adorned with artwork and informational posters. The anganwadi, which caters to children between the ages of 0 and 6, is also bright and well-equipped.

Pari, an 8-year-old student, said she loves attending her primary school because it has “good teachers, a garden, flowers, and paintings on the walls”.

Also Read: How 2 Hisar villages beat testing hesitancy to become ‘models’ in rural Covid war

‘An educated and tech-savvy sarpanch’

Satish Kumar, a resident of the village, told ThePrint that it was a boon to have a young and well-informed sarpanch like Yuvraj Sharma.

“Earlier, villages would usually have an uneducated sarpanch, so any new scheme by the government would often go unnoticed. But when an educated and tech-savvy person becomes a sarpanch, they know what schemes have been launched and even take the help of digital technology to take these to the masses,” Kumar said.

Sharma told ThePrint that he adopted a methodical approach from the beginning of his tenure, and even took a survey of the problems that villagers faced so he could address them.

He said that having a younger sarpanch encouraged the youth of the village to participate more in community matters and to attend gram sabha meetings. “This helped bring vibrant ideas to the table,” Sharma said. “For example, they wanted to promote sports in the village, so that is when the idea of creating a badminton hall and fitness centre was born.”

According to Sharma, women also started participating more and expressed their need for a separate area to socialise and go for walks. “We included their ideas in our road map for the village,” Sharma said, also giving credit to the villagers for their support and for taking gram sabha matters seriously.

Children enjoy the 2-acre park in Khurdban | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

When asked about challenges he has faced as a sarpanch, Sharma said: “The main problem was that around elections, the panchayat’s work would stop for six months. Covid also played the role of a major hindrance, but we stayed connected digitally so that the gram sabha’s work did not stop.”

Khurdban was the first village in Haryana to hold an e-panchayat during the pandemic. Three hundred people attended the virtual meeting, including Haryana Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala and Principal Secretary, Development and Panchayat Department, Sudhir Rajpal.

But, what about the personal costs of abandoning a stable career for public service?

‘If everyone thinks about comfort, how will change arrive?’

For Sharma, who is married with two young daughters, leaving his comfortable job as an assistant professor — and from a salary of Rs 40,000 to a stipend of Rs 3,000 as a sarpanch — was not an easy decision, but it was a risk he felt was worth taking.

“My wife was of the opinion that I was taking a big risk, that I could progress better in my job if I would have continued,” he said. “My colleagues will be much ahead of me in the span of five years. But if everyone only thinks about comfort, how will change arrive?” Sharma added, saying his biggest inspiration is the freedom fighter Bhagat Singh.

Sharma told ThePrint that he sees problems as challenges. “At the university, we professors would have discussions about topics like the migration from villages to cities. I have also lived in Delhi-NCR for a year and I noticed that it puts a lot of pressure on the resources of the city. But many have a cynical approach towards these things, and consider that bringing change within the system is very difficult. I took it as a challenge,” he said.

Mulling over issues such as this propelled Sharma to contest in the panchayat elections despite not having a political background or support.

He told ThePrint that his education gave him the confidence to clearly put forth his thoughts and demands to government authorities.

“I have observed that a lack of education makes one look meek or helpless. Some of our previous sarpanches were not authoritative enough to put across their demands. But I used my background and knowledge to research government schemes online and benefit from them,” he said.

With panchayat elections due in January next year, the gram sabha is currently not actively working on new schemes, and Sharma has taken up a position as a project officer in the zila parishad (district council).

He does not plan to contest the upcoming panchayat polls because he believes that someone else should get a chance to lead. “I will support them,” Sharma said.

The villagers, however, are keen to continue with the mission to improve Khurdban. High on the list is making the village a cleaner place.

Surender Sharma, the father of the young sarpanch and who also helps with gram sabha matters, told ThePrint that building a waste shed and beautifying the village ponds are on the agenda. “We have set a good example in the district and many other village heads also come to learn from us,” the elder Sharma said.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)

Also Read: Awareness camps, machines, inspection — how Haryana’s Ambala cut farm fires by 80% in a year


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