Hivre Bajar (Hiware Bazar) is a village, with 235 families and a population of around 1,250 but with an astounding 60 millionaires. The per capita income of Hivre Bajar has exponentially improved from Rs 800 in 1990s to Rs 30,000 in 2012. Hivre Bajar did not stake gold or oil from under ground but this transformation is only due to the collective hard work of people of Hivre Bajar.
To think all this has been accomplished in 20 years is testimony to what humans can achieve if they work together with a positive, cooperative objective to succeed. In the mid 70s this was a place hit by the drought in Maharashtra. Citizens if this village were barely able to make a living.
The village was quickly spiraling into crime and alcoholism. Most men including the school teachers and Government employees had drinking problems. Villagers migrated to Mumbai slums and worked as daily wage earners. The local economy and social fabric collapsed. Hopelessness and anger prevailed.
Then in 1995, the village youth pleaded the only post graduate in their village, Popat Rao Powar, to contest for the Sarpanch’s post in 1989. Popat Rao’s family was not interested, they wanted to move out and get a good job in a city. The youth persevered and convinced the villager’s to replace the existing leaders with Mr. Popat Roa. The villagers agreed and elected Popat Roa for a one year term. Mr. Popat Roa gathered the villagers and asked them for their problems – they collectively decided the highest priority went to the village school since this decided the fate of future generations. The Sar Panch and the village youth spoke to villagers and two of them donated an old building and land for the school. A new school came up. The villagers soon realised the ambitions and true intentions of Mr. Popat Rao and knew he was working towards their betterment. They elected him a Sar Panch for 4 more years.
Image: Popat Rao Powar – Man who transformed Hivre Bajar
Since then there has been no looking back. There has been no election in Hivre Bajar for several years and Mr. Popat Roa has been unopposed Sar Panch.
All decisions are taken in a democratic way where villagers gather and decide on the solution. The Gram Sabah sometimes meets 4 times a week to discuss the village affairs.
Image: Panchayat – where it all happens
The Changes in Hivre Bajar
He got the school working again. He started a children’s parliament that monitored if teachers were regularly attending school and if the students had any complaints. Several students from Hivre Bajar now go to get college education; in fact 32 students are now studying medicine.
Image: Play Area at School
Closing Liquor Stores
Apart from improving the local school he convinced villagers that alcoholism had made them poor and addicted and closed the 22 illicit liquor stores in the area. He got the Gram Sabah to tie up with the Bank of Maharashtra to grant loans to poor families, including those who were brewing illicit liquor earlier. All land sales to people from outside Hivre Bajar was banned since this will create a huge inflation around land prices and deflate what has been achieved in the village.
Water Conservation and Agriculture
Hivre Bajar received around 400 millimeters of rain a year and this made agriculture very difficult. The villagers depended on the ground water to grow their crops.
Image: Agriculture thrives in Hivre Bajar with very little rainfall
The Sar Panch spoke about the importance of conserving water and got the villagers to build bunds, percolation tanks, and stone bunds and check dams to save every bit of rain that fell on their land. Using ground water for agriculture was banned and can now be used only for drinking proposes.
Before 1995, open wells had water at 80-125 feet. Today, there are 294 open wells with water at 15-40 feet. Other villages in Ahmednagar district have to drill nearly 200 feet to reach water. In 1995, only one-tenth of land in Hivre Bajar was arable. Out of a total of 976 hectares, 150 hectares was rocky. Nature was against them as there were recurrent droughts. Now, even the stubborn land is being tamed with the rocks being removed and ploughed so that sowing can start when the rains come.
Students are compulsorily taught the about water conservation and water is budgeted each year and crop circles decided based on that. Felling of community trees are banned and instead the villager make money out of the by products from trees like gum from babool tree. More than 10 lakh trees have been planted since 1990 and this has helped raise water table, reduce erosion of fertile soil and reduced temperature by 2 degrees in the village.
The villagers are also encouraged to do organic farming only 20% of chemical fertilizers are used in farming today.
Farming thrived. The labour costs were expensive so Mr. Powar launched collective farming where villagers help out each other on their farms. The villagers say this gives them a sense of community and allows them to reach common goals.
Another key initiative Mr. Powar took was to ban cattle grazing, since over grazing was leading to erosion of fertile soil and made land uncultivable. He asked the villagers to grow fodder for cattle. The focus has helped increase milk production from 150 liters in mid-1990s to 4,000 liters a day in 2012.
The cow dung is used as manure and also feeds the bio-gas plant that supply’s gas to the houses for cooking.
Image: Dairy products adds to supplemental income
Sanitation and Health
The village boasts clean and tidy cement roads and no open sewage. Garbage is disposed in close bins found on every street. This has helped the village improve the basic health of the villagers drastically. There are no sweepers or cleaners in the village yet the village remains spotless clean since every citizen has taken the responsibility to do it those selves. The village has a primary care center that caters to the basic health needs of its citizens.
Image: Clean roads are a norm in Hivre Bajar
The changes kept coming.
The villagers work in harmony to take all their decisions. They have built a mosque for the one Muslim family that lives in the village.
Now that Hivre Bajar and Mr. Popat Rao Powar have won in-numerous awards for their accomplishments, Mr. Popat Rao wants to replicate this model across several villages.
Mr. Powar is now the chairman of Maharashtra’s Model Village Program that aims to create 100 villages like Hivre Bajar. The participatory principle where every one collectively makes decisions has bought great success.
In a time when farmers are migrating to cities abandoning their land and agriculture, Hivre Bajar comes as a welcome lesson.
If you take care of Mother Nature, she will take care of you.
Video: English documentary on Hivre Bajar
Video: Hindi documentary on Hivre Bajar