Sunday, 5 March 2017

Chaitram Pawar - The saviour of Baripada

If the people of this nation vow to bring development, then nothing can withstand the power of the human will. Baripada village in Maharashtra’s Dhule district, India is a brilliant example of person - Chaitram Pawar’s dedicated efforts. At the time when people wait for Government to change or transform their lives, villagers of Baripada, under the leadership of Chaitram Pawar reshaped their own destiny. Rather they have made the government agencies to come to them to learn how they reshaped their destiny.

Baripada is a small village, with just 108 Vanvasi families and 785 population, located on the border of Maharashtra and Gujarat, about 400 km from Mumbai. The village is surrounded by a 445 ha forest supporting a rich vegetation composed of species such as teak or saag, devakhumba, palas, pangara, ain, kumbha, moha or mahua, neem or kadulimb, karwand and others. Wild animals found here are panther, Indian wolf, black-naped hare, fox, monitor lizard, and others.

At the end of the 1980s and in the early 1990s, the village faced scarcity of firewood, food and water due to the deforestation that was prevalent on a large scale. Villagers noticed that the hill near the village, which had always been green, was turning into a barren and dry sand pile. The supply of fuelwood had become irregular. One third of 35 village wells had gone dry. Due to absence of other livelihood, village women had had turned to liquor production as a secondary source of income. Liquor consumption led to adverse social and economic effects on the village environment.

Chaitram Pawar, an educated youth from the village, felt the need to do something about the
Chaitram Pawar
situation in his village. A post-graduate in commerce, Chaitram turned down many offers of jobs including a job in Indian Air Force and decided to stay at Baripada and work for upliftment of the village. Under the guidance of a local NGO Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, he organized the villagers and thus the foundation was laid for self-development.
Gajanan Pathak, who was then associated with Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, extended his support. Subsequently the forest department also started helping Pawar in his initiatives. The forest department extended their Joint Forest Management (JFM) scheme to the village in 1998. JFM has subsequently been also extended to other villages in the vicinity. Thus a large contiguous patch of forest is currently under protection by different villages. Pawar mobilised the villagers and urged them to take action. Pawar convinced the villagers that if deforestation continued, their access to dry wood, fruits and other minor forest produce will be cut off. In a village gathering on 23 May 1993, a local informal Forest Protection Committee (FPC) was set up to protect the forest. Initially some villagers were sceptical about this initiative. They were then roped in as important position holders in the FPC. Pawar was elected the chairman of the FPC. It was decided that the committee will not have any permanent members. The idea was that each family would have the chance to send a representative to the committee in turn. Thus all the families in the village had a stake in the entire process. Illicit extraction of forest resources by the villagers has completely stopped. Species like Tectona grandis, korfad, ghaypaat, among others, have been planted under JFM in the community protected forest. The people of Baripada initiated a plant diversity register process in October 2004 to monitor the plants found in their forests. They have identified 14 different sites from the forest and initiated vegetation mapping through a 100 sq m quadrant. A group of UN Development Programme (UNDP), foreign students and enthusiast are now visiting the village to study the biodiversity conservation work.

Punishments were given for cutting trees and those who took steps for protection were awarded. It was decided that nobody from the village or outside the village would be allowed to enter the forest with a bullock cart for any reason. Two most elderly persons would work as a watchmen and report to FPC. A decision was taken to protect 450 hectares of land. The watchmen would be paid Rs100 per month and would be changed every year. It was decided that each family would contribute three rupees in cash or seven kg of grains to generate the funds required to pay  the  watchmen. 50 acres of the forest land was set aside for grazing. During winter, villagers were allowed to use dry wood for fuel requirements. The forest cover started becoming dense and by 1998. The move was closely guided by Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. Dr Anand Pathak and Ravi Sahare, working at the hospital run by the NGO in the nearby village dedicated their leisure time for Baripada’s development.

Method for curbing water scarcity proved revolutionary and was successful. The work began by constructing small check dams. So far, 480 check dams have been built. The experiment not only proved beneficial for storing water for future use but also curbed soil erosion. Later the villagers dig 5 km long and one meter deep canal for recharging ground water level. The entire work was done through shramdan. The result of all these activities is that the village which used to fetch drinking water from 3km in early 1990s now supplies water to five surrounding villages.

Most of the farming in the village is based on cow and no hybrid seed is used. The indigenous seeds give astonishing output here. This can be a good case study for the ‘scientists’ who are mad after hybrid seeds and now even want permission for trails of poisonous Genetically Modified (GM) crops.

Another NGO, Janaseva Foundation helped in the cultivation of rice, wheat, potato, vegetables and other cash crops. The foundation received a grant from International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for three years. The work was rewarded by IFAD at Bangkok on July 23, 2003. The village community won the award in a competition on “Local Knowledge and Innovation of the Rural Poor” in the Asian region. The village became famous. It received Rs 1,00,000 from the Indian government as an award. This was used in starting a village level, jaggery-making unit. The unit now employs 25 young men from the village.

The forest conservation drive fostered the ‘we’ spirit among villagers. Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and Janaseva Foundation helped villagers in undertaking community-based development activities like building improvised toilets, setting up kitchen gardens that used recycled water etc. The forest department legitimized the informal village protection group under its Joint Forest Management Scheme. The work that began with the forest protection has now grown in various aspects.

Gajanan Pathak recalls an interesting incident. The forest havaldar (forest guard) had hired some outsiders to collect wood from the forest for him. The villagers came to know about this and questioned the havaldar. Embarrassed, he asked for a transfer and soon moved out of the region. Pathak says, ‘What was interesting about this incident was the fact that the villagers did not shy away from confronting the havaldar, who usually behaved like a king. They could question him because of their own unity and because they felt that he should not go unpunished, as this would set a precedent.’

Steps were also taken for financial empowerment of people. Self-help groups (SHGs) were constituted, which proved highly beneficial. Five SHGs are involved in rice marketing alone. The latest drive is for alcohol de-addiction. The families which fed themselves by preparing and selling country-made alcohol were requested to shift to fishing. As a result alcohol production has completely stopped. Men in Baripada are now afraid of coming home drunk! The integrated development process has multiple facets. Night schools were stated for adult illiterates and the primary school was reopened. An absent student is fined Re 1 per day, while the teacher is fined Rs 51 per day for absent. Festivals are celebrated together and the village organises marriages together to save money. Sports competitions are also held, not just to enjoy games but also to disseminate the message of self-development in surrounding villages. As a result similar experiments have begun in around 20 nearby villages. Thus the focus is on the all round development of the region. Villagers have now undertaken the cultivation of common forest nursery as a part of joint watershed development activities. Pawar now vows to create a cadre of 200 youths from the community who can become future custodians of conservation efforts.

Chaitram Pawar also leads a unique organisation, Baripada Gram Vikas Samitee (BGVS) which is composed entirely of the villagers that it works for. He was honored with a second prize by international award sponsored by International funds for agriculture development (IFAD). He has received 12 awards in which Shetinishtha Shetkari Puraskar from Maharashtra government and first prize of Sant Tukaram forest scheme are also included. According to Chaitram Pawar, plant and animal life has increased in the forest, both in terms of number and variety. More importantly, not only has Baripada become self-sufficient in terms of meeting its fuelwood and water needs, it can even supply water to surrounding villages. It has evolved as a model of development.
Chaitram Pawar, a down to earth man, never takes credits for himself. Acccording to him, development couldn't have been acheived without the support of Baripada villagers and their will to bring development. Mr Pawar showed people the importance of forest, land and water in order to attain self sufficiency. According to him, conserving the forests increases the water table, practicing good agricultural techniques, helped them to improve the yield from the land and conserving water by making percolation tanks, dams and small storage spaces further increased the availability of water. The combined effect of all the three exercises increased the productivity of the land and helped the village become self sufficient. "We cannot draw desired results as long as we continue to depend upon government for help every time. The best option is to start self and create the situation when government runs after you,” says Chaitram Devchand Pawar, a real hero in true sense.

1 comment:

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