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A successful watershed development programme at Hiware Bazar has led to multiple benefits such as rise in water level, better cropping pattern, increase in cropping intensity, fodder availability and milk production. Photo Courtesy: Hiware Bazar Panchayat

 It took just a visionary leader to change the fortunes of poverty struck people in the village of Hiware Bazar in the Ahmednagar district of western Maharashtra. Sixty of them are millionaires today. Recipient of the prestigious Magsaysay Award and anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal says that Hiware Bazar brings the lesson that if you give power to people at the grassroots, they would do things that change their lives. Ramesh Menon. reports

India is a leadership driven society. Wherever there has been a visionary leader, there has been inexplicable change as if he or she has had a magic wand.

If you want to see how this works, visit Hiware Bazar, a village in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra in India. But before you go and get taken aback with what you see, consider the background the village had.

In the seventies, it was chaos personified.There was no water for farming or grains for cooking. Children did not go to school. As there was no source of income or agriculture, villagers were forced to migrate to nearby Mumbai to work as construction labourers on daily wages. They lived in slums in India’s commercial capital as they could not afford anything else.The only ones prospering and happy were those who ran illicit liquor dens.

Hiware Bazar was a village untouched by prosperity. Or even hope.

The Turnaround




 (Popatrao Pawar, the visionary of Hiware Bazar. Photo: Ramesh Menon)

The youngsters were wondering if they ever had a future. They did not see a ray of hope as the aged leadership in the village was doing nothing to stem the rot. They felt that a leadership change would transform the village but they needed someone who was educated and had a vision.

They latched on to Popatrao Pawar, who was the only post graduate, asking him to contest for the post of the village head,Sarpanch. Popatrao laughed it off. He was a good cricket player and had hopes of entering the Ranji Trophy team some day. Moreover, his family , wanted him to go to Pune or Mumbai in search of a white collar job. Certainly not being a sarpanch in Hiware Bazar! But the youngsters persisted. Finally, Popatrao thought he would give it a try. As there was a new hope, others also voiced their support to him. He was elected sans a contest. He saw this as an opportunity that life had given him. This was in 1989.

He set about in a systematic fashion . Using the mandate that the village had given him, he got rid of the 22 illicit liquor dens, banned the consumption of liquor, tobacco and gutka. Laxman Pawar, 72, who is now a prosperous farmer, remembers that hope kindled when the liquor dens were shut.

Water was the key













 Clean drinking water from a tube well in Hiware Bazar. Photo: Ramesh Menon


Popatrao started working on water management programmes to ensure that the little rain that the rain-starved region got did not flow out of the village but got dammed within. He persuaded villagers to dig ponds to hold the water saying that they should not wait for the government to do everything. The idea was to slowly enrich the water table. In three years, it did.

When water flowed into the wells, irrigation started and the fields were green after many years. One crop got harvested and then another in the same year. Water guzzling crops of rice and sugarcane were banned.

Soon, the fields were lush with vegetables like onions and potatoes. Stalks of maize, jowar and bajra swayed in the breeze. There was a new dream emerging in every house in the village.

He carefully got a system of monthly water audits done.

There was a new consciousness about the need to conserve every drop of water and catch it as it fell on the earth.

Learning to help yourself
Popatrao stressed that the only way to strengthen the water infrastructure in the village was to ‘volunteer to work’. Villagers selflessly worked to build 52 earthen bunds, two percolation tanks, 32 stone bunds and nine check dams. “We used state government funds that were available to any village panchayat. We cut down costs on construction by volunteering. It helped create a sense of ownership among the villagers,” says Popatrao.

Water management helped Hiware Bazar increase its irrigation area from 20 hectares to 70 hectares. Before 1995, there were 90 open wells with water at 80-125 feet. Today, there are 294 open wells with water at 15-40 feet.

Anshabapu, 45, had just two acres land which was useless. Today, water has changed his future. He has 25 acres growing maize and fodder for his 30 buffaloes that yield 250 litres of milk daily. Such examples are all over.

Today, Hiware Bazar is a green oasis in an otherwise drab and drought ridden Ahmednagar district.

Change comes with strategy
The change is perceptible. There are decent looking houses all over. Villagers look content and happy. The monthly per capital income has crossed Rs. 30,000. In the village of 235 families with a total population of around 1,250, there are 60 millionaires.

It was all because Popatrao was ushering a new style of rural governance that was proudly independent. He realised there were more than enough government schemes for development that could be exploited. “The problem with our villages is not the lack of money, but the lack of governance, transparency and participation of the people,” he says.

Within a year of taking over in 1989, he finalised priorities for the village. This came about after numerous protracted meetings with villagers. He did not take any decisions alone as he genuinely appreciated the benefits of participatory governance.

The government school in the village that was non-functional as teachers hardly visited, it was rebuilt. Popatrao got a children’s parliament going not only to teach them what participative governance was, but to make them responsible. The children were given designations like any minister would have, and they took it seriously. No teacher chose to stay away from school anymore as they were being monitored by the ‘“Education Minister’” of the village. Today, literacy in the village has crossed 95 per cent.

Simple ideas actually work
One of the most striking things when you enter Hiware Bazar is that it is cleaner than any town in India. Popatrao insists that every villager must work towards keeping it clean as they owned it. Once cleanliness came in, there were no mosquitoes, no illness.

He constantly cautioned villagers not to get carried away by political parties or with sentiments that had anything to do with caste prejudices or communalism as it would divide the village. Change could not be brought about without communal amity.

With the village having enough water, farming became a profitable proposition. Those who had migrated to work as labourers, started returning shows that if our villagers were in order, millions of villagers would not be living in harsh conditions in our urban slums.

Learning Entrepreneurship
Earlier, villagers used to cut babool trees for fuel. Now, they have learnt to harvest gum from it, which sells at Rs. 2,000 a kilo. It is a new commercial proposition.

Many of the villagers have also become diary entrepreneurs as they used their surplus money to invest in milch cows and buffaloes. Milk is the new gold in Hiware Bazar. In 1995, milk production per day was only 150 litres. Today, it has crossed 4,000 litres!

In 1995, there were 168 ‘below the poverty line (BPL)’ families in the village. Today, there are only three families that fall in BPL indicator. Says Popatrao: “In another year, there will be none.” This only goes to show what collective action can do.

Social Change
As sex ratios collapse all over India, Hiware Bazar has shown the way. Its gram panchayat has decided that the second daughter’s education and marriage expenses will be taken care of by them. In the seven-member panchayat, three are women. Sunita Shankar Pawar is the sarpanch this year.

isPopatrao is now busy motivating villagers to adopt family planning, take care of their health and hygiene, and get couples take a HIV test before marriage.

Magsaysay Award winner and anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal says that the lesson to learn from Hiware Bazar is that if you give power to people at the grassroots, they would do things that change their lives.

Hiware Bazar has won numerous State and National awards. Every day, visitors flock to Hiware Bazar to see the magic of development and leadership. Popatrao now sees an opportunity there too. He plans to set up a rural mall in his village that will sell organic products produced in the village. He is sure the visitors will lap it up bringing a steady source of income to all those involved in organic farming.

Replicating Hiware Bazar
Impressed by his leadership skills, the Maharashtra government has appointed him as the executive director of the Adarsh Gaon Yojana (Ideal Village Scheme) set up by the State. It aims to target about 100 villages that have shown a willingness to work collectively to bring in change.

In the last 24 years, Popatrao has shown what a good clean inspiring leader can do to bring in change for the better. He could do this as he was not only committed, but determined.

We need more of them. Our villages deserve them.




(Ramesh Menon is a senior media professional and recipient of the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards (Environmental Reporting category, Print).