Punsari is one of the best villages of India, with all the amenities of a city but it was not always the best. Know how the efforts of one man changed the village in the past few years.
Himanshu Patel was born and brought up in Punsari village in Sabarkantha district of Gujarat. However, once he was done with his schooling, the family shifted to a nearby town for Himanshu further education.
It was then that the difference between town and village became clear to Himanshu, in his trips back to the village during his holidays.
In the village, there was no electricity, no water system and law and order were almost out of control. There would be at least one police case every month due to feuds in the village. By the time Himanshu completed his graduation, the situation had worsened.
Many families had migrated from the village, the village Panchayat was carrying a loss of Rs 1.2 lakh, and there were 328 families below poverty line living there.
Even while he was studying, Himanshu researched on government schemes that could be adopted to change the situation in the village. He would voluntarily work for the betterment of the community and urge the Sarpanch and other authorities to make use of the schemes.
However, no one was willing to listen to a young boy who didn’t hold any position in the village.
“They would tell me that you are too young to understand how a village works. It is not easy to change the mindset of the villagers,” Himanshu said while talking to The Better India.
Himanshu realised the only way to bring about change was to hold a dominant position in the village.
After finishing his graduation, he contested in the Gram Panchayat elections of Punsari in 2006 and became the youngest Sarpanch of Punsari at the age of 22.
The road ahead was not that easy!
There were 23 different communities in the village, which today has a population of 6000. People were non-cooperative when it came to adopting a better living style. 98 per cent of the villagers were uneducated and in the agriculture or dairy farm business. The Panchayat had no funds at all. Rather, it had a debt of Rs 1.2 Lakh, and there were influential people always ready to oppose the new Sarpanch.
“I needed a team to work. I couldn’t have done it alone. But the Panchayat had no funds to recruit even a single member. Hence I made a 60-member team from already appointed Govt. employees in the village like teachers, Anganwadi workers, ASHA workers and the staff at the health care centre etc. I asked them to progress step-by-step in their own fields,” says Himanshu.
Basic Amenities in the village through government schemes
The first step that Himanshu took to improve the village was to build trust among the villagers. He tried to understand the priorities of the villagers and what they wanted.
In the first three years of his tenure, he took care of all the basic needs of the villagers. Himanshu was very firm in that he would not seek the help of any NGO or CSR or any donations for funds. Instead, he used government schemes to fill the gap.
He started applying for schemes efficiently and adjoined new schemes too. Within two years, i.e. by 2008, the village had electricity, street lights were installed at appropriate places, a water distribution system was installed, pucca roads were developed, and a toilet was built at every house of the village.
Communication with villagers
But Himanshu had imagined much more than just basic amenities for his village. He wanted to get all the facilities available in a city to Punsari – while keeping the soul of the village intact.
“When I started working in 2006, I had no idea on how to go forward. I decided to first gain the trust of the villagers by providing them with the basic facilities they had been demanding for many years. After this I focused on the facilities which they weren’t demanding for, but was the need of the hour,” he explained.
In 2009, Himanshu installed 12 speakers across the village to communicate with the villagers. The speakers were connected to the Gram Panchayat office from where he would announce government schemes that could help villagers. He would also give birthday wishes and condolences on someone’s death from this central announcement system.
This filled in all the communication gap between the villagers and the Gram Panchayat. Himanshu has also connected his mobile to these speakers so that he can stay in touch with the villagers even if he is out-of-station.
Sustainable Revenue model –
Himanshu hired a waste collecting van, which would gather waste, and transfer that to a plant where renewable waste was created. The entire village is lit due to this renewable energy plant.
“Our village is so clean that I challenge anyone coming to the village that if one finds even a single mosquito in the village, I will award them Rs 1 Lakh,” he laughs.
Sarpanch Himanshu also encouraged three young boys of the village to start an RO water plant in public-private partnership model, and Punsari has been getting 5-litre cans of mineral water for Rs 4 since 2010 thanks to this plant.
The village is also WiFi enabled. The villagers can get 30 Mbps data by registering themselves at the panchayat for Rs 50 per month.
CCTV cameras were installed at various places such as classrooms and all the government offices in the village. The footage from the cameras can be viewed on mobile phones through an app.
“Initially when the village was made WiFi enabled, only three people came to register, but now there are 300 internet users in the village. Now the situation is such that they won’t complain if there isn’t water supply for a day, but they immediately complain if the server is down,” Himanshu says with a laugh.
Zero MMR and IMR –
Health care was another big challenge for the Panchayat in the village.
As most of the villagers were in the dairy business, the women were forced to walk around 2 km every day to deliver their milk to milk banks twice a day.
Correspondingly, the Mother Mortality Rate (MMR) and Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) was high as even pregnant ladies had to do this. This issue was resolved by starting the village’s own transport system.
A mini bus now drops the women every morning and evening to the milk bank and back to their home. Villagers can go anywhere in the village in this van by paying a token amount of just Rs 2.
After 2008 the village is 100% vaccinated. And the result is that the MMR and IMR have gone down to zero. There are no malnourished children in the village, and all the deliveries are done by qualified by doctors in the hospital and not at home.
The Future Ahead:
Himanshu, who wants Punsari to become the world’s best village, has completed his 10-year tenure as the Sarpanch of the village recently He continues his legacy he has trained 100 youngsters, who will contest for the Panchayat elections.
The only mantra that Himanshu gives to the next generation is that “Don’t migrate from villages due to lack of amenities, rather get the amenities of the cities here but keep the spirit of the village alive”.
Ask him about his happiest memory as a Sarpanch, and he says, “There were 328 BPL (below poverty line) families in the village. They had neither house nor land. I could uplift them to APL (above poverty line). I think as a Sarpanch that was my biggest achievement and my happiest memory”.
You can contact Himanshu Patel on 9426379400
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A Mechanical Engineer-turned-writer, Manabi finds solace in writing stories about unsung heroes. Nothing makes her happier than the impact emails from her readers. Other than writing, she loves listening to the stories told by her six year old daughter. Manabi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find her tweets @manabi5