Hiware Bazaar (Ahmednagar): More than half of Maharashtra is battling drought, which is stoking farm distress. The wells are dry. Groundwater is depleted, making bore wells useless, and the only solace is an occasional water tanker making its way to affected villages.
Amid all this, Hiware Bazar, located in western Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district, stands out like an oasis. There hasn’t been much rain over the past 14 months, but the wells in this village still have water. There are no bore wells, but hand pumps quickly draw water from just a few feet below the ground. There is no need for tankers.
Since 1992, Hiware Bazar, which has a population of 1,233 (Census 2011), has been slowly scripting its own transformation, metamorphosing from a poor under-developed water-stressed village to an affluent, self-sufficient one.
This season, with a severe drought looming large, and elections round the corner, the people of Hiware Bazar have just one message for political parties and farmers — short-term relief measures such as loan waivers and subsidies don’t work.
The key is for farmers to take initiative, use the government’s various development schemes, collectively decide cropping patterns and conserve water.
‘Loan waivers, subsidies not a solution’
To Popatrao Pawar, the sarpanch (village chief) of Hiware Bazaar, the proliferation of quick-fix solutions is like “the Indian Premier League 20-20 cricket”.
“One can’t see any long-term planning. These are only attempts to fill electoral coffers,” he told ThePrint. “The main problems are set aside and temporary populist schemes are brought forth, which is very dangerous. No one political party is at fault. Everybody does it,” he said.
He pointed out how when the Maharashtra government’s draft Groundwater Development and Management Rules, 2018, were released for public suggestions last year, the media highlighted the fact that the state sought to impose curbs on the use of water by farmers.
“The legislation never saw the light of day because nobody wants to upset the larger population,” Pawar added.
According to the villagers, the only reason they have drinking water today is because they had foreseen the scorching summer and the impending water scarcity in November last year and taken “some tough decisions”.
“This year (2018-19), the rainfall was extremely poor, only 187 millimetres,” said Sharad Pardi, a local farmer.
“All the villagers came together and decided to let go of the Rabi crop though the sowing had been completed,” he added. “They saved the water that would have gone into cultivating the Rabi crop. We are benefitting from the decision now in the peak of summer.”
Raghunath Rangnath Bangar, another farmer, said he lost about 100 quintals in the Rabi season. “But I didn’t mind because I can get grain from anywhere. Getting water is difficult,” he added.
“Today, we have enough water to last the village for four months,” Bangar said. “Meanwhile, I have reared my cattle well and am subsisting on dairy farming.”
Bangar then questioned the logic of farm loan waivers.
“Will private moneylenders give us money again if we don’t pay them back? Then, why should we expect banks to?” he asked. “If farmers do everything with care and consciousness, everything can be managed.”
The turnaround story
When he first became sarpanch in 1989, Pawar said, Hiware Bazar was in “extreme poverty, shunned by the government in development work, and there was heavy migration to cities”.
It was in 1992 that the gram sabha, under the leadership of Pawar, decided to take matters into its own hands.
According to Pawar, the village panchayat first approached the government for the implementation of the ‘joint forest management’ scheme in Hiware Bazar. The scheme involves forest regeneration through the involvement of village communities and the forest department. The gram sabha also banned tree-cutting and prohibited all cattle from going to these forest areas for grazing.
In 1994, the village opted for the then Sharad Pawar-led state government’s ‘Adarsh Gram Yojana’ to create sufficient drinking water, green fodder, education and health facilities, as well as employment opportunities.
The village took some other important decisions that year — shramdaan (free labour by villagers for the benefit of the whole village), nasabandi (sterilisation for family planning), nasha bandi (a ban on liquor), and lota bandi (ensure every house has access to a toilet).
The following year, the village panchayat introduced social auditing, displaying to people the status of the funds used as well as its water resources.
“We took initiative to get good development schemes to our village,” said Pawar.
“That is where many others lack. It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of delays initially in getting approval, but we persevered. For example, we have a tar road connecting our village now, but we had been demanding it for more than 10 years,” he added.
Another important decision, according to him, was to move away from crops that required a lot of water such as sugarcane, pomegranate, bananas and so on, and encourage villagers to grow onions, grains, vegetables and flowers.
Now, besides government funds, the village also has finances it has won in the form of various private and public awards. The village panchayat office has a board full of local newspaper cuttings, highlighting the success story that is Hiware Bazar. Close to it is a room full of trophies that the village has won.
In 2016, Hiware Bazar even found a mention in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Mann ki Baat’, where he called for a mass movement to conserve water.
Schoolchildren, activists and private companies come to the village for industrial visits, and, to facilitate these, the state government is building an information centre in the village about its turnaround story.
“But, it is unfortunate that despite all this, moves such as limiting water-intensive crops like sugarcane remain politically-sensitive and unpopular,” sarpanch Pawar said.
“There is no real focus on what actually needs to be done,” he added.
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