July 1, 2011
by Veena Srinivasan, Research Affiliate
In the first week of July, I had the pleasure of visiting Hivre Bazar, a village close to the town of Ahmednagar in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra in India. Hivre Bazar is considered of the biggest success stories of the participatory watershed movement in India. Twenty years ago, a 1992 household survey showed over 90% of the families in the village were below the poverty line. There was a lot of in-fighting and high rates of alcoholism among villagers. Following the death of one villager after a partisan fight, many moved out of the main village center — either to live nearer their fields or to urban areas. Drinking water was scarce and agriculture was precarious. Poor farmers depended on rain-fed agriculture; the richer farmers were bore-well dependent — often running their pumps round the clock. The village was considered unsuitable for government schemes — no government official was willing to visit the village much less waste his time trying to implement a scheme in the village.
In a short space of twenty years, Hivre Bazar has been completely transformed. Today, no family in Hivre Bazar is below the poverty line. Despite successful practice of family planning, the population of the village has increased by 50% because of reverse migration. Almost 100 families that had migrated to urban areas have returned. Hivre Bazar has been declared an “Ideal Village.” The head of the village (sarpanch) whose vision transformed it has been appointed to lead the Maharashtra state “Adarsh Gaon Yojana” (Ideal Village Scheme) to replicate its success in over 100 selected villages statewide. There is no shortage of drinking water or irrigation water.
The village has now received so many awards that three rooms are insufficient to house the medals, trophies, and certificates. A field trip to the village is now mandatory in the training of the prestigious Indian Administrative Service (IAS) candidates both at the federal and state levels. The village is also used as a case study in military training, NGOs, social work programs, etc. Each day 500 visitors come to the village to learn how this transformation was achieved — so many that it became necessary to train tour guides and ask visitors to pay. I myself witnessed busloads of Masters of Social Work students from a local college arrive as part of a mandatory field trip to listen to a lecture by the tour guide Mohan, who also showed me around the village.
However, despite the high level of “development tourism,” the primary income source remains agriculture. There are no stores or restaurants in the village and the only non-agricultural jobs appear to be in the school, librar,y and visitor center. I saw no evidence of any other kind of commercial activity. Instead, piles of produce (onions, potatoes, etc.) were seen in front of every farm. Now that the village has become a brand in itself, they have plans to directly market “Hivre Bazar Organic Produce” at high end stores in urban areas.
Importantly, there is of pride among the villagers — there is not a spec of litter anywhere on the wide streets of the main village; each house is perfectly maintained; the color schemes (!) in the homes are coordinated. The school motorized pumps run on solar energy; the school buildings are well maintained. The village has been successful in implementing all kinds of government schemes — the village was one of the first to mandate pre-marital HIV testing for all. Hivre Bazar is also an open-defecation-free village and 100% of the homes have toilets. The area around the village is lush with vegetation and all kinds of birds could be seen. Importantly, all this is achieved by consensus. The Gram Sabha (village general body) meetings are well attended by at least one representative from each household. I was told it is common to have 1000 people attend the Gram Sabha meeting (the village population is only ~1300) — entire families come and make a picnic of the event.
If there is any dissent it is not voiced. The phrase “the villagers know the Gram Panchayat is acting in their best interest” was repeated a few times. This explanation seems very plausible — the contrast between Hivre Bazar’s prosperity and poverty of nearby villages is too stark for villagers to complain. Even the landless have benefited from the prosperity as even those families are no longer below the poverty line.