Farmers in Maharashtra's Hiware Bazar
Farmers in Maharashtra's Hiware Bazar | Manasi Phadke/ThePrint
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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.”


Also read: Maharashtra’s ‘military village’ says no one cares for it even in this ‘Balakot election’


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.


Also read: Suicides & drought plague Maharashtra – India’s ‘angriest’ state


 

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4 Comments Share Your Views

4 COMMENTS

  1. Sincere and honest efforts well paid. I believe there was no politics involved. Such patterns may be copied and well rewarded for proper impetus it gives to the humble farmers. The farmers guiding others have to be gifted appropriately by our President. Also, a panel can be appointed from these award recipients to the Loksabha and Rajyasabha for short tenures to reap benefits of their rich experience.

  2. The whole country is expecting to make a law to provide free canal irrigation and free power to the farmers for their irrigation pumps for whatever the crop they are growing from traditional to horticulture or agroforestry etc. to increase the agricultural production in India to feed the growing population of India and balance to export to earn valuable foreign exchange to make rupee strong

  3. While I congratulate the villagers of Hiware Bazaar, it surprised me that reinventing the wheel gets so much of media space. Consider the following points: (1) When Britishers constructed some early irrigation projects in Pune and Ahmadnagar districts, two types of cropping patterns were adopted known as the “Gat System’ ans the “Phad System”. It appears that these systems have been forgotten.
    (2) Many of the principles mentioned in the news report were part of the First Five Year Plan promoted by the Central Government under Pt. Nehru. Were they forgotten subsequently?
    (3) Conservation of water was the bedrock of the movement started by the well known activist Shri Anna Hazare in Ralegan Siddhi of Ahmadnagar District and it was supposed to have been implemented all over the state.

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