Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The future of India lies in its villages.” He believed that the vicious cycle of displacement, rural to urban migration, overcrowding of cities and poverty could only be tackled once our villages are made self-sufficient.
The village of Kadbanwadi in the Indapur taluka of Pune in Maharashtra is the perfect example of this self-sufficient village Gandhiji envisioned. Thanks to the efforts of Bhajandas Vitthal Pawar.
Kadbanwadi, spread across an area of 1500 hectares, is home to over 360 families and around 1,600 people. The Agro Climatic report marks the village as a water scarcity zone in Maharashtra, with less than 400mm of rainfall per year.
“Water is the most important component of living. And for years together, we struggled with basic potable water to drink, let alone water for farming purposes. Most residents had abandoned agriculture due to losses and ever-rising debts. Due to the perpetual scarcity of water, all our crops would dry up. The harvest was so low, we couldn’t even grow enough food for our own survival,” says Bhajandas.
Since agriculture wasn’t the most feasible profession, it was a common sight to see hoards of villagers leave for other villages and migrate to cities in search of employment.
The majority of the villagers traditionally have been shepherds and practice animal husbandry, but the acute shortage of water wasn’t enough for the livestock either. The kids dropped out of school & would accompany their parents in search of menial labour or graze their cattle in distant pastures with vegetation.
Summers were spent pooling money to get water tankers.
But if you were to visit Kadbanwadi today, its transformation into an ‘Adarsh Gram’ or model village will leave you spellbound.
59-year-old Bhajandas, who grew up in Kadbanwadi, was also the first person in his entire village to have graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Science. He completed his Bachelors in Education from Pune Vidyapeeth and taught at Saraswati Vidyalaya, Ravangaon, 48 km away from his village for over 28 years.
Inspired by work of Anna Hazare to make his village Ralegan Siddhi self-sufficient through water conservation, Pawar decided to dedicate the rest of his life to make Kadbanwadi a model village.
In fact when Anna Hazare paid a visit to Kadbanwadi in 1994, he spoke to Bhajandas and the villagers about how water conservation could go a long way in the village. In a bid to turn his vision into reality, Bhajandas undertook training in water conservation at Ralegan Siddhi in 1994 under the Maharashtra Government’s Adarsh Gaon Yojana.
Kadbanwadi was one among 300 drought-prone villages across Maharashtra selected under the programme. After completing the training with another villager who accompanied him, Bhajandas returned to the village and set up a trust to start water conservation systems.
While he was met with several protests and instances of non-cooperation from the villagers, he stood undeterred. He educated them about the need for water conservation and starting chalking out plans for setting up the system according to the village’s topography and available skillset.
The idea was to conserve water while also avoiding soil erosion. The villagers joined hands and dug out 2-3m deep farm ponds to facilitate water storage. They coated the walls and base of these ponds with lining paper to avoid infiltration.
And many such acts later it all began to pay rich dividends. Once almost a barren piece of land where even drinking water was a luxury, Kadbanwadi now has over 100 farm ponds now.
In addition, it also has three percolation tanks, 27 cement nala bunds and 110 earthen bunds.
These water conservation systems have been utilising over 300 hectares of land in the village.
Apart from soil and water conservation, Bhajandas also raised concerns about conserving Kadbanwadi’s 500 hectares of forestlands.
The forestlands have a rich floral and faunal diversity. The Indian gazelle or chinkara is a main attraction. The growing wildlife conservation practices are helping increase its population. Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Office, IAS Praveen Pardeshi, who also served as the forest secretary, helped the village receive a sum of Rs one crore to facilitate the construction of more water conservation systems and increase grazing spaces for Chinkaras and other wildlife.
The impact of water conservation reflects in the agricultural practices of the village. While farmers were increasingly dependent on rainfall to grow jowar and bajra earlier, today over 500 hectares of agricultural land is used to grow pomegranates. These pomegranates are making inroads into markets in major cities like Pune, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Bengaluru and exported too.
Over 200 hectares of land is used to cultivate other revenue earning crops like sugarcane and various vegetables and seasonal crops.
No more does the village thirst for water once the monsoons bid adieu. The water conservation systems help saved and utilise rainwater successfully.
“No more do people leave our village in search of employment. In fact, we have over 200-300 labourers who come every day to our village to work in our fields,” says Bhajandas proudly.
No more do children drop out of school to search for employment or graze cattle. The profits their parents earn is sufficient to help them pursue higher studies. Kadbanwadi is raising a new generation of engineers, doctors, teachers and farmers today and has over 100 government employees.
In a final message, Bhajandas says, “I request people in rural India to not abandon their village for life in the city. Rather than crowding cities, see how you can work in your villages. Make sure you work hard to make your village so self-sufficient, that people from the cities come to villages in search of employment one day.”
Get in touch with Bhajandas Pawar here or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org