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“My intention is not to convert a village into a city. Instead, I want to uphold the village culture while ensuring modern amenities. This can happen if we initiate a collective effort by collaborating with the villagers,” says Dr Satyapal Singh Meena. An IRS officer, he set himself this arduous task in Rajasthan’s Dhanora village in 2011.
The first step was to make Dhanora free from open defecation. He says that pre-Swachh Bharat, until 2015, almost 96 per cent of households did not have a toilet. This plight was more from the lack of will than infrastructure.
After five years of failures, criticism and hard work, Dhanora is 100 per cent Open Defecation Free (ODF), and also believed to be India’s first village having sewerage lines with a sewerage treatment plant connecting all households.
Dr Satyapal did not stop there. He worked in several sectors to solve other challenges and make Dhanora India’s first smart village.
How did he convince a population of 2,000+ to give up a practice they associate with ‘parampara’? Through charismatic leadership and zeal.
Dr Satyapal, who is currently posted as Additional Director of Indore’s Income Tax Department, has made Dhanora a pioneering village in areas of sustainability, hygiene and water conservation. Read the full story here.
“The overwhelming participation from people gave me the confidence to address problems with sanitation, water conservation, education, plantation and so on,” he tells The Better India.
Interestingly, Dr Satyapal was born and raised in a farming family in Dhanora. He went on to complete his PhD in International Relations and also attempted the UPSC twice before clearing it the third time.
“Joining civil services was never a part of my plan. It was only during preparations that I realised the significance of a civil servant. It was education that helped me understand the visible gap between urban and rural areas. I wanted to bridge this gap.”
He learnt that it was possible to change people’s behaviour and mobilise them for society’s long-term welfare.
During this time, he had the idea of ‘Soch Badlo, Gaav Badlo’ (SBGB), a volunteer-led community initiative, to implement the Dhanora model across several villages in Rajasthan.
“The aim is to transform this model into a movement and make the villages self-sufficient. We have roped in over 3,000 volunteers who work on-ground to execute various programmes,” he shares.
Before working in any village, the SBGB team convenes a public meeting with the local people, where the Panchayat Committee is called as a part of Soch Badlo Goav Badlo Yatra to discuss their problems. Based on the severity, they tackle one issue at a time.
“We do not execute our entire model in one or more villages. We take action as per their urgency. So, in some villages, we have solved the water scarcity problem, education in others, and open defecation in some,” underlines Dr Satyapal.
Here are 5 Impactful Models of Change:
1. Solving Water Woes
In Dhanera village (680 km from Dhanora), accessing potable water was a crucial problem until SBGB intervened in 2017.
“Women in our village would walk almost a kilometre every day to fetch water from the nearby pond. The pond would dry in the summers, leaving us with no water for weeks,” Devendra Singh, a resident of the village and a member of SGBG, tells The Better India.
After rigorous mobilisation, the Panchayat committee sanctioned Rs 4 lakh, and every household donated Rs 1,000 to buy a new pipeline and water tank. Meanwhile, the labourers in the village offered to install it for free.
The team dug to a depth of 400 ft and installed a tubewell to send groundwater to the 25,000-litre capacity tank via the pipeline. They installed ten common points across the village to supply drinking water from the tank to the common taps.
To avoid groundwater depletion, the team built two small dams near the pond to conserve rainwater.
“They were many problems during the installation, including digging at an incorrect place, bad quality of pipeline, huge stones that cracked the pipeline in the beginning and more. However, we learnt from our mistakes and avoided them while undertaking similar projects in Badapura of Masalpur, Khinnot of Sarmthura, and Yatrat village,” adds Devendra.
2. Open Defecation Free
Located in Bari Tehsil of Dhaulpur district, Gadarpura is a tiny village with a little over 200 families. The densely populated village hardly has any pucca roads, let alone a connecting road to another village. A majority of its population is illiterate and prefers living in seclusion from the outside world. Toilets had not made inroads, and so, people largely practised open defecation.
Against this backdrop, convincing them to install toilets was indeed a daunting task. Dr Satyapal, the SBGB team, and the state administration worked in unison to bring about a behaviour change.
“It was almost like déjà vu. Here we were again telling people about the dangers of open defecation, why hygiene is crucial and so on. Some villagers did not welcome us as we were outsiders,” Dr Satyapal recollects.
The team helped nearly 220 families procure toilet grants under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and the construction was done by the state authorities. Meanwhile, the SBGB team collected funds from people, and volunteers and installed a sewage pipeline.
‘Shiksha Pao, Gyaan Badhao’ is one of the flagship programmes undertaken in several villages. It aims to raise awareness among students of the secondary section about their career options.
Since education is hardly considered important in the remotest areas of Rajasthan, Dr Satyapl has launched the Utthan Coaching Centre. It is a competitive examination coaching centre, equipped with wi-fi and broadcast facilities.
He set up four such centres in the state with 3-4 professional teachers each. They prepare students for exams like the Rajasthan Public Service Commission and government jobs in railways, police, postal, banking and teaching departments. Each centre was built by collecting funds from villagers.
Students pay a monthly fee of Rs 100 and are provided with essential stationeries, bags, study material and so on. An increase in participation of girls is one of the notable impacts so far.
“Girls are discouraged from pursuing higher education as the colleges are far away. By bringing the centres closer, we have recorded that more than 50 per cent of students are girls. Since 2017, over a thousand students have made use of the classes for entrance exams,” says Devendra.
The team also runs 25 libraries across Rajasthan to promote reading among children.
Post the lockdown, Dr Satyapal will launch online live classes for students. His goal is to equip every village with coaching cum skill development centres.
4. Support for Utilisation of Government Schemes by People
From NREGA, livelihoods, education, to road construction, the IRS officer has directed the team to utilise government schemes wherever possible.
“Through awareness programmes, we educate villagers about various schemes they can avail,” says Maniram, a volunteer from Badapura village. He is an Inspector of Income Tax posted in Kota.
Excitedly, he tells me about the success of filing an RTI that resulted in the sanction of Rs 54 crore by the state government to build a red stone quarry in Masalpur village.
Meanwhile, in Garhpura village, the team members filed an RTI online about insufficient roads. The government then sanctioned around Rs 66 lakh to construct roads to connect 2-3 neighbouring villages.
5. Increasing Green Cover
‘Clean Village, Green Village’ was one of the most lauded initiatives led by Dr Satyapal. Under this, villagers were asked to plant a tree during special occasions such as birth, death, and birthdays.
He replicated this programme in 57 villages across the state where the SBGB team distributes free saplings every year.
“The survival rates in arid regions are extremely low. Hence, we run annual mass movements requesting people to plant trees. This year, we distributed close 2,000 plants in Dhanora village,” says Dr Satyapal.
The collective efforts of villagers and the administration can transform the face of rural India and efforts by officers like Dr Satyapal are proof.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)