Bachpan wala gaon vaapis chahta tha (I wanted the village of my childhood back),” he says with a smile. Popatrao Pawar, 52, may not be a household name but he sure is a celebrity in his own right. The sarpanch of Hiware Bazaar village in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district has developed a model village equipped with not just basic amenities like water, electricity and education, but also one that is free of social evils and tuned into initiatives like family planning and HIV prevention. Pawar’s journey, however, has been long and fraught with challenges.
Back in 1989, the then 26-year-old Pawar had just returned home to Hiware Bazaar, having successfully completed his masters degree in commerce from Ahmednagar University. “When I got back, I was dismayed to see the state my village was in. Most of the families were below the poverty line and urban migration was a very big issue,” asserts Pawar.
Hiware Bazaar had always been a drought-prone village and the situation had worsened after the infamous drought of 1972. Barely 12 percent of the land was cultivable and the village would receive hardly 200-300 mm of rainfall. When Pawar returned, he was one of the most educated people from the village and was approached by members of the gram sabha to contest in the upcoming elections.
“I won the election and became the sarpanch,” he says. Putting his career ambitions on hold, Pawar’s first step was to build a proper school in the village, one that would offer education up to Class 10.
The existing school was only up to Class 4 and students who wanted to study beyond that would have go outside the village.
Once that was done, Pawar made a priority list with other members of the village council. The aspirations were straightforward – drinking water, electricity, health and roads.
For water conservation, the panchayat constructed 40,000 contour trenches around the hills to conserve and recharge groundwater. “We redesigned cropping patterns to have more cash crops, and banned tube wells that would enable the exploitation of groundwater. Only open wells were allowed.”
Deforestation was banned and nearly 10 lakh trees were planted in the village. After the launch of the Adarsh gaon Yojana in 1995, Hiware Bazaar was selected as the village that could be developed as a model village in the taluka.
Once basic infrastructure was out of the way, Pawar swung into action to better the quality of life.
“We established health and animal centres and anganwadis. Everyone in the village is aware of the importance of family planning and all couples have to take a compulsory HIV test before marriage,” says Pawar.
He adds that there is no violence in the village and there are more female to male ratio is higher.
“We do not have a single political statue in the village and built a mosque with the village contributions for our fellow Muslim residents.”
After decades, Hiware Bazaar started witnessing a reverse migration. Families who had left the village came back to make the most of the prosperity.
Pawar, meanwhile, has no plans of slowing down. Executive president of the Adarsh Gaon Yojna, his mission now is to sustain the movement of development and make 100 other villages better.
“If urban migration continues, cities will collapse and so will dreams of ‘India Shining’.”