"'Aapno gaav, aap banao'—which means 'you build your village', was adopted as the mantra,” says Raj Yadav, the man behind the transformative project.
As the sun sets in the Rongbul village of the South Sikkim district, children rush home guided by the street lights and the last rays of the sun.
It has been quite a day for them. After their classes ended, they attended a tournament at the village sports ground.
Now, they will reach home, complete their homework and prepare for their forthcoming classes.
Today, these activities feel normal for the villagers of Rongbul, but till only three years ago, the school was not functioning properly, and the village suffered from irregular electricity supply.
And these were just two of the several problems plaguing the village.
Things took a turn for the better after the appointment of IAS office Raj Yadav, as the South Sikkim district magistrate (DM) in 2014.
In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that it was his leadership that brought about a transformation in villages like Rongbul.
“After the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY) was launched in 2014, I thought about tweaking it in a way that the district administration would take direct responsibility of the villages they adopt. And so, the District Administration’s Adopted Village or DAAV was formed. While SAGY was launched as a way to encourage rural development in a broad manner we went to the grassroots levels of the villages and addressed their issues,” Yadav said.
And thus began the journey of rural development that promised to transform about 2000 lives in each village that was adopted.
As the IAS officer mentioned, the objective was to bring development in the most remote villages of the South Sikkim district.
Situated at an altitude of 4400 ft, the sub-tropical Rongbul Gram Panchayat Unit (GPU) is prone to constant droughts and water scarcity. Even then, agriculture is the primary occupation in the five villages under it.
Irregular supply of power, lack of teachers in the government school and a general lack of enthusiasm for development were some of the primary concerns of the villages.
Add to that the fact that they suffered from frequent droughts and IAS Yadav was looking at quite an impoverished area in the state.
Unsurprisingly, it took no time for him to confirm that Rongbul would be the first GPU to be adopted and converted into a model village under the DAAV project.
“‘Aapno gaav, aap banao’—which in Nepali means, ‘you build your village,’ was the mantra,” Yadav says. “The first step was to gather the gram panchayat and speak to them. Without effective, two-way dialogue, we couldn’t have zeroed in on the targets to be tackled. We took suggestions from all the people there—men, women and children and found out that their needs were very basic. They wanted a reliable supply of water and electricity before anything else, and so, that’s where we focussed.”
After a meeting the representatives of the people of Rongbul, the district authorities started planning its development.
The aim was to bring communities and authorities together to ensure the village was transformed in a way that the villagers would be happy to maintain.
“With the first GPU, one of our biggest challenges was to motivate people to join our forces. Initially, they did not trust us too much, but we began the work anyway, roping in the adults during designing and the children in beautifying the school buildings. Before we knew it, the villages and the district administration were working together for the DAAV project,” Yadav tells us.
In his book, ‘I am DAAV,’ Yadav mentions in great detail about the sub-projects undertaken in Rongbul. From agriculture to land revenue and from roads and bridges to human resources, each project was carefully planned and executed under the departments of the police, disaster management, civil supplies and consumer affairs, and others.
The villagers, of course, joined the brigade, providing manpower as well as financial aid wherever the funds were low. The IAS officer explains that the funds assigned for specific projects or tasks could not be transferred to DAAV, and thus, at times, the district administration faced a cash crunch.
However, the villagers were encouraged to contribute towards the development of their villages which they did quite happily.
It took the DM and his team about eight months to transform Rongbul. the village was equipped with a school building and qualified teaching staff. They now have a regular supply of electricity and water as well.
Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), bank accounts and Primary Health Sub Centres (PHSCs) were established in the GPU, to ensure an improvement in the lifestyle of the residents.
To ensure the proper maintenance of new schools, banks, ICDSs and PHSCs, Yadav started the ‘Each Friday, Field Day’ project wherein the authorities visit the departments under their control to understand their status. If you visit the Rongbul GPU website, you can see the schedule that was undertaken in 2016.
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“For a major part of the project, we focused on developing and maintaining the existing infrastructure. The Rongbul GPU has a population of about 2000 people, and when we completed the project successfully, we decided to replicate it in four other GPUs also,” Yadav tells TBI.
After the success of Rongbul, Yadav’s district administration went on to adopt the GPUs of Lingi Paiyong, Tinik Chisopani, Mamley Kamrang and Sanganath—each of them were equally underdeveloped and populated.
In his tenure as the DM of South Sikkim, he ensured that each of these GPUs was transformed within 6-8 months. Once again, the communities were involved in the process.
Currently, the IAS officer is the additional secretary to the finance department of Sikkim, but he hopes that he will get an opportunity in the future to serve as a DM of yet another district where he can replicate the DAAV project.
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“It was a unique programme initiated by the district administration. We tried to achieve 100% in every aspect in those GPUs through community participation. If I get [a] similar opportunity in future I will try to work with [the] same strategy”, he tells the East Mojo.
An initiative which ensures that development is undertaken for the people, and by the people, DAAV is certainly an inspirational project. We hope that more authorities take note of it and replicate it in their villages.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)