He spoke with great affection and pride about how his village has become a model village
He believes the future for a great India has to be built around Smart villages NOT Smart cities- the village dweller has no reason to migrate to the already overcrowded cities if he has a sustainable, healthy and happy life in his own village.
With the right leadership he believes every village can be transformed into such a sustainable entity.
Nature can provide the solution to most of the problems that plague India’s villages, he says.
In 1975 Ralegan Siddhi was a 1700 people village, drought stricken and poverty ridden where barely 70 acres of land was irrigated.
Most of the villagers had taken to trading in illicit liquor to make ends meet.Alcoholism and domestic abuse were rampant
Anna came here after a 12 year stint in the army and set about mobilizing the youth of that village to bring about social reforms- starting with shutting down of 40 illicit liquor shops.
To tackle drought he has a simple approach – Let no water that falls or flows here leave this place.We have to give it a way to percolate down to the water table.
So rainwater that flowed down from the surrounding hills was stopped by building various types of embankments and catchment areas .Local material like stones ,boulders and mud was used to stop water and arrest soil erosion.
Every villager contributed with small financial contributions and most importantly- with donation of labour or Shramdaan
Today over 2500 acres of land is irrigated.
From 30 wells in 1975,there are now 135 wells and the water table has risen so much that bore wells have become unnecessary
There’s every effort made to conserve water- even human waste- urine and shit from the village school- is treated in septic tanks and water is retrieved for use in drip irrigation
Water used for washing clothes is also redirected to septic tanks for treatment and use in irrigation
Cultivation was shifted to low waterintensive crops like Jowar, bajra and onion where the fodder needs of cattle are also met- 1kg of jowar crop grows with 9kg fodder – Milk production today is over 6000 liters a day, up from 400 liters in 1975 though the number of cows is actually lesser today.Milk is sold to neighboring villages.
Onion has become a cash crop as also pomegranate which are sent out in trucks.Today in this village which had lots of marginal farmers and ill nourished labourers, there’s often a shortage of labourers to load the trucks .
Drinking water can be drawn by anyone from the water ATM @ Rs5 for twenty litres .
1400 heads of cattle provide enough dung for manure and Gobar gas fuel for homes
Water pumps run on solar energy and earthworms are used for composting
Shramdaan has made possible a high school in the village which educates children upto class 12
How do you get such leaders? Anna believes there are five hallmarks of a good leader
Sacrifice in life
Strength to swallow insult
Such a person can bring about transformation in small village units – ideally between 2 to 4 thousand strong.
It is especially important that a leader should never get frustrated- because frustration is actually a disease.A good leader has to just learn to swallow all insults and soldier on towards critical goals using simple but practical solutions.
In Ralegan, the village is constantly nudged to try and root out social evils
The gram sabha resolves all disputes and ensures that there’s never a need to go to court for any differences.
The Dalit families of the village were burdened with loans of over 60000 rupees some 16 years ago. As per the gram sabha’s decision for two years, every household contributed Shramdaan in the form of working in their farms and managed to grow enough crop to repay the debt
Marriages put a lot of financial burden on families, so taking forward the concept of the village as a family, collective marriages were encouraged from 1976 with all the villagers sharing marriage duties.
Since 1989, the high school gives priority admissions to failure students
The school building was itself constructed at just 60 lakhs with the whole village contributing Shramdaan
The village birthday is celebrated every 2 October
New clothes are given by the villagers to
Seniormost male and female who are felicitated as the father and mother of the village
All newborns and also newly married daughters in law are given new clothes to welcome them into the village family
Every family has at least one member in the army- villagers who retire from the army have all chosen to come and settle here
Many of the village youth are employed in the neighborhood MIDC
Signs of prosperity- good roads, clean ambience are everywhere- the breeze here is noticeably cooler
The training center run by the Hind Swaraj trust attracts people who wish to learn tricks and techniques to improve life in rural India
Regular training programs are held here and there’s a self service dining hall that can feed over 100 persons- Anna eats the food from here
School begins at 5:30 with running, yoga and pt and often Anna is personally at the school at the crack of dawn participating in this activity
Anna’s five point program for progress
Prohibition- no alcohol
Limit family size- sterilization
No axing of trees
A nursery is being cultivated to supply saplings of five medicinal plants to each family to grow and use to treat minor ailments
Tulsi, adulsa, aloe Vera are among the plants given
Neem, amla , ginger and turmeric are already grown by most families
He spoke clearly and eloquently- not once repeating himself or pausing for the right word
Feels very grateful and believes that God has repeatedly allowed him to survive near death situations only to bring about transformation
Over 9 lakh people have visited and taken back valuable lessons from this village,five neighboring villages and several others across the country are following this model of village transformation with great success.
When we’re born we cry and everyone distributed sweets
Your life should be such that you can die laughing and leave all others crying- that’s a life well lived says Anna.
What a man !