In These Maharashtra Villages, Citizen Power Is Driving Development

The will of the people.

"Earlier, we did not have access to sufficient water, and the problem of open defecation was pervasive. Today, with the power of community participation, we have access to water, and a toilet in almost every household," says Jeejabai of Awalgaon in Yavatmal district, Nagpur. A feisty woman who appears to be in her sixties, Jeejabai has, through her work in self-help groups (SHGs), has become something of a role model in the village. Her sentiments capture the state of mind of every common person in rural India—the desire for development and inclusive growth. The BJP's rallying cry of "Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas" that catapulted Narendra Modi to power three years ago was a promise to bridge the gaps in development between the urban and rural pockets of the country. Supported by community involvement, the wheels for achieving this vision have been set in motion.

Awalgaon and Donoda have demonstrated that in the pursuit of development, there is a need for supplementing enabling policies with community participation...

As part of Mission Samriddhi's Institute of Panchayat Leadership (IPL) project, we visited a few villages in the Yavatmal district of Nagpur, Maharashtra to document the pathways to village development. This visit gave us the opportunity to witness firsthand how communities possess the power to thrive and overcome challenges by sheer will and self-reliance. Mission Samriddhi is a social impact enterprise working to empower rural India by leveraging the success stories of villages like Awalgaon, and replicating best practices in other similar settings through the design and implementation of village development projects.

A village that wrote its own destiny

Awalgaon—the residents of which are primarily PVTGs (Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups)—was granted CFR (Community Forest Rights) in December 2013 after a prolonged struggle with the authorities. The progress made in the tribal village since then has been remarkable, and widely discernible in the tenacity exuded by the older generation men and women, who have built the village from scratch, and young individuals alike. Under the guidance of a local NGO, the Gramin Samassya Mukti Trust (GSMT), and its inspiring leader, Dr. Kishor Moghe, Awalgaon is making the right strides in the direction of becoming a model village. The best practices from this village will be adopted and replicated in the process of development of 10 CFR villages in the pilot phase identified by Dr. Moghe, and subsequently in 100 tribal villages in phase I of Mission Samriddhi's project. The IPL project will support Dr. Moghe in the training programmes through which he seeks to enable and empower gram sabhas and panchayats, paving the way for village participation in planning processes.

Prashant, a 28-year-old, is leading from the front in the journey of Awalgaon's development, actively engaging with authorities in the procurement of benefits of schemes and ensuring their implementation in the village. His efforts have helped position the tribal community as rightful owners of the forest resources, instead of having to depend on the authorities for permissions. The notable developments in this village have been achieved through the gram sabha, which has empowered the villagers through awareness creation about the rights of the village, and has enabled them to take actions towards the realisation of their rights. In doing so, they have exemplified the indispensability of community participation in processes of development.

The government service delivery system [must go] from being supply-oriented to being demand-generated. This will push the people to become aware of their rights, and work towards having access to them.

Through the enabling efforts of the gram sabha and the GSMT, the village has established ownership of the forest areas that rightfully belong to them, and have mastered scientific practices that would enhance the quality of both their agriculture and forest produce. These include developing complex and elaborate contour maps to enable better understanding of the soil, crops and plantations for the optimum utilisation of resources from the forest, as well as modern agricultural methods.

Today, Awalgaon boasts of continued access to water, a gas connection in every household, and a toilet and a solar light in almost every household. Additionally, women's self-help groups have been instated to work towards making gender equality a reality in the village.

The woman-in-charge

Women in leadership roles have the capacity to bring about tremendous positive changes around them. In Donoda village, Nagpur, Usha Vinodrao Pendhana has already set a benchmark in the space of gender equality. Through the power she wields as its sarpanch, she has transformed the village by addressing the challenges that were hitherto posing as impediments to their development. In the two years that she has held the position, she has sought to tackle issues of hygiene and sanitation through the construction of toilets and waste pits, and the installation of hand-pumps. "Initially people would suffer a lot because of the waste accumulated that would lead to the breeding of mosquitoes. But now, it is much cleaner and garbage is not visible outside because of the magic pits," says Usha. Like most other woman in the country grappling with the need to choose between a career and family, Usha too had to overcome the objections raised by her in-laws in her initial days as sarpanch. Today, her mother-in-law takes pride in the work that she does, and Usha also gets immense support from her husband and daughters.

Awalgaon and Donoda have demonstrated that in the pursuit of development, there is a need for supplementing enabling policies with community participation, which may be driven by the anxiety of being left behind. Further, a critical component of development, especially in rural areas, is the need to effect behaviour change amongst the people. While toilets and taps can be constructed, it is important to sensitise the beneficiaries to the whys and hows of using them. Unemployment issues will continue to be unaddressed if they remain entangled in the vicious cycle of addiction/intoxication, that often results from and results in unemployment. Populist policies (like the free distribution of rice), a key element of vote bank politics, often have the detrimental effect of making people passive and unwilling to seek employment. It is integral to change the government service delivery system from being supply-oriented to being demand-generated. This will push the people to become aware of their rights and work towards making sure they have access to them. Bringing about behaviour change is therefore fundamental in ensuring active individual as well as community participation, which will truly ensure development for all.

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