Friday, September 09, 2005

My dear , watch out THIS IS INDIA

Village that’s a model for self-help
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Posted online: Thursday, September 08, 2005 at 0000 hours IST

MAHALUGE (THANE), SEPTEMBER 7: It’s not what you would expect an Indian village to be. There are neither any dung heaps, nor garbage mounds. And anyone defecating in the open is slapped with a Rs-20 fine. You can’t dump garbage outside your house.

And if all this sounds too wonderful to be true, there’s more. From being water deficient, Mahaluge village in Thane district, 80 km from Mumbai, has managed to end its dependence on outside sources. Agriculture is back in fashion and migration has ebbed.

All this hasn’t happened overnight. In fact, when about 500 villagers from Koyna were rehabilitated here in 1962 due to the construction of the Koyna dam, they were filled with despair. For the next 20 years, nothing changed.

Things started moving after one Suresh More retired in 1987 and settled in the village. ‘‘When I started living here, I realised that the dirty surroundings were coming in the way of the development of the village. So I decided to get everyone together to clean it up,’’ recalls More, now 68.

Today a huge arched cement gateway welcomes you to the village. When you walk on the clean red-mud village road, you marvel at the dustbins hanging from green hedges on either side, every 25 metres, and boards with messages to keep the village clean on the trees around you. This has fetched the village awards.

‘‘Earlier we used to wait for someone from the Collectorate to come and clean our village and for politicians to get us water. When nothing happened, we decided to do it ourselves,’’ said More.

It wasn’t easy. The villagers were so used to defecating in the open and dumping garbage outside that they were reluctant to spend money on toilets. But when More and some other villagers started sweeping the village themselves, they were convinced.

Recalls Balkrishna More, 70, who supported Suresh More right from the beginning: ‘‘Slowly people started joining us in sweeping the village and collecting the garbage and the look of the village changed.’’ For those who couldn’t afford cement toilets, they devised a Rs-500 toilet and also contributed for those who couldn’t afford.

Clean and simple solutions

• Mahaluge village rehabilitated Koyna dam oustees in 1962. The conditions were quite bad
• Resident Suresh More initiated a public movement to keep the village clean in 1987: defecation in the open and dumping garbage was banned, every house had a toilet by 2000
• Once the villagers came together, they solved their water problem and also formed self-help groups to raise money
• The young men who were leaving the village have turned back to plow their fields

Today Mahaluge is swept on Tuesdays and there’s a daily muster for garbage collection. Besides, 90-odd homes have their own toilets.

Once the villagers witnessed how they could improve their quality of life, it was only a matter of time before they resolved to solve other problems similarly. They conducted a water audit in 2002 and dug a borewell in 2003 after pooling in Rs 50,000. The women had come together and formed small saving groups.

This led to the birth of a small women credit cooperative where some money could be saved every month. ‘‘Today we have six women self-help groups with more than 200 women involved in it,’’ said Rekha Bhonsale (30), who heads the cooperative.

As a result of all this, the youth who were leaving the village took a second look at it. ‘‘After the village has become clean and there is enough water, the youth in about 85 per cent of the families have gone back to the traditional agriculture,’’ says More. Those who hold private jobs now commute from the village. And the youth are also coaching students from the village so that they can do better in life.

Mahaluge, which has been without a panchayat for the past seven years, takes every decision democratically, with a majority vote. ‘‘Our village came under tribal reservation seven years ago and since we did not have anyone from the ST community, we decided to have open democratic rule,’’ said More. Politicians are kept at an arm’s length. The villagers says they are their own leaders.


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