Ralegan Siddhi : A village Transformed

Ralegan Siddhi is a small village In the district of Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. It has become an example for various developmental activits throughout the country.

In 1975. this same village was caught In a web of poverty and illicit liquor trade. The per capita Income was unbelievably low. at Rs 271. The transformation took place when a retired army driver. Anna Hazare. settled In the village.

To begin with. he donated Rs 3000 to renovate a local temple. In that temple he baptised the villagers with his five commandments. prohibition, family planning, a ban on open grazing, a ban on felling trees and voluntary labour. Voluntary labour was necesssary to ensure minimum dependence on the government for doles. "It socialized the costs of the projects." explains Hazare. Even those who were working outide the village contributed to development by committing a month's salary every year.

Work began with the percolation tank constructed In the village. In 1975. the tank would not hold water. The embankment wall leaked. Hazare rallied people to voluntarily repair the embankment. The seven wells below It swelled with water, for the first time In the living memory of the people. In summer. The people reposed their faith In Hazare and his vision.

A youth group. Tarun Mandal. was formed. The group worked to ban the dowry system, caste discrimination and untouchability. Liquor distilling units were removed and prohibition Imposed. Open grazing was completely banned with a new emphasis on stall-feeding. The cultivation of water-Intensive crps like sugarcane was banned. Crops such as pulses, oilseeds and certain cash crops with low water requirements were grown.

All elections to local bodies began being held on the basis of consensus. "It made the community leaders complete representatives of the people." says Ganpat Rai Avti. head of the village council. A system of Nyay Panchayats (Informal courts) were also set up. Since then. no case has ever been referred to the police.

A Rs 22 lakh school building was constructed using only the resources of the village. No donations were taken. Money. If needed, was borrowed and paid back. The villagers took pride In this self-reliance. A new system of sharing labour grew out of this Infusion of pride and voluntary spirit. People volunteered to work on each others' land. Landless labour also gained employment. Today the village plans to buy land for them In adjoining villages.

Today, water is abundant, agriculture flourishes In Ralegan. though at a cost. the overuse of fertilisers and pesticides. Prosperity also brings to question the ability of the affluent present generation to carry on the work after Anna. The answer lies on Anna's words. "The process of Ralegan's evolution to an Ideal village will not stop. with changing times people tend to evolve new ways. In future. Ralegan might present a different model to the country.

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