Smart villages teach better living: ANNA

Anna Hazare shook a blasé India demanding a stringent anti-corruption law or The Lokpal Bill. Today this fakir sits in a temple at his serene Ralegan Siddhi, a model village created by him by way of rural empowerment. Anna still not happy as industries get prominence over villages. As he goes down memory lane he opens his heart with Urban Vaastu Special Correspondent Siddharth Iyer.

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How did you change your village, Ralegan Siddhi?
I took up ‘watershed management’ which provided a new direction to the country. It was what Gandhiji’s dreamt of ‘model village’. Our development has been at the cost of destroying nature. Watershed management is not exploitation of limited resources like petrol, diesel or coal but helping create model villages. For watershed management we had stopped sinking deep bore wells. Instead rain water was stored for groundwater recharging raising water table. Bores used to go to 1000 ft and people were bored with these bores.

What do you think of a ‘Smart Village’?
We must understand what constitutes a smart village. Today, there’s a notion that a village must have a 2-floor panchayat building, pucca roads, etc. Such a notion is wrong. Smart village doesn’t mean high rise buildings or having more concrete buildings. Unfortunately villages are turning into cities. This is not the right way. Until a villager thinks he has a duty towards his neighbour, village and country, a smart village not feasible.

Prime Minister NarendraModi says ‘smart cities’ help to develop India?
Thirty years back there was no potable drinking water in Ralegan Siddhi. One went 6 km for breaking stones and eke out a living. Illicit liquor was stored. The village was heading in wrong direction. Today, not a single penny has been borrowed from foreign countries nor any donation accepted from an industrialist. We recharged ground water table on our own. The village lacked water to irrigate a 400-acre land but today a 1200 acre of land gets water. Previously, not even 400 litre milk was produced. Today, 6000 litres of milk is exported every day. Our youth own 8-10 cows. They also have milk machine to milk cows and earn better than a salaried person in a city.

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But a villager can’t earn as much as a city-dweller. If he earns 6K for 9 hours here, a person would earn around 12K for the same duration in a city.
But who will value independence? In city it’s 11am to 5pm culture. Entire life goes into 11 to 5 mode. In village a person is free to work as per his wish. Entire village is a family and a person can meet anybody anytime. Whereas in cities, you don’t even know if your neighbour has died. After 2 days, you will wake up from the stink of the dead body.

Here (in Ralegan Siddhi) a school building was constructed with 60 lakhs. Not a single penny was borrowed. The villagers contributed. Will such a thing happen in a city? If you want to strengthen a nation, strengthen the village; and if you want to strengthen the village strengthen villagers. That was Gandhiji’s principle.

What should a smart village consist of?
Smart village must provide work and food to each villager.

Post-independence if such villages had been created rural migration would have been checked. Villages must have been the focal point. We are agrarian economy. More importance should be given to farmers not industries. Unfortunately, our leaders chose industries which created pollution and which is killing us.

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There must be no religious or cultural divide as everyone is part of the family. Previously, Dalits were not allowed in the temple. I will tell you an instance. Dalits here were indebted with a bank loan of Rs 60,000 and we helped to repay it by ‘shramdaan’ working in Dalit farms for two years and settled the debt. A smart village must have ‘unity in diversity.’

But what about rural migration?
Why is it happening? People are not able to meet their basic needs and are forced to go to cities. In Ralegan Siddhi no one leaves. Instead, people from outside come to study what is so unique about this village.

But not all villages are Ralegan Siddhi…
Why not such be the case? Government went wrong. Post-independence if such villages had been created rural migration would have been checked. Villages must have been the focal point. We are agrarian economy. More importance should be given to farmers not industries. Unfortunately, our leaders chose industries which created pollution and which is killing us.

Is there any agency that monitors funds spent after villages/cities?
Funds are spent but where is the auditing? Gram sabhas need complete autonomy.

Before money is spent let gram sabhas be involved or its permission sought.
Villagers are gram sabhas. It is above LokSabha and VidhanSabha. It’s the gram sabha that elects an MP/MLA. It’s independent and all-powerful as it changes Lok/VidhanSabha every 5 years. Govt must not work independent of gram sabha.

Why don’t you write to PM Modi ?
I and Modi don’t get along much. Because when he and Rahul Gandhi were contesting the 2014 LokSabha elections, the media asked me to comment. I said ‘both are useless’. Instead of farmers, they have industries in mind!’. Since Modiji doesn’t talk to me I guess he has allergy to me.

I have seen Modi as Gujarat CM giving impetus to agriculture. He had revived the agriculture index in the state.
If agriculture was indeed developed why do people keep moving to Mumbai?
Sachin, Ambani are adopting villages. In such cases, what role can the Govt play?
Such adoptions won’t work. I believe if someone is adopted, that person then waits for the adopter to die. This is because he will inherit the property. I don’t think adopting villages is the solution.

Why can’t Govt adopt villages?
So many Govts came and went. Did anyone think of adopting a village? Why can’t even one village become like Ralegan Siddhi? Therefore, we need to create leaderships. You want to see fields full of maize? Then you must learn to sacrifice your time and labour to reap such fruits.

If you start a movement for ‘Smart Villages’ like you did in 2011 (against corruption), we can see a change.
Although I lack money my attempts are on. Eight lakh people visited my village in last 12 years and I have been educating them.

How necessary is school in a village?
Very much! School helps build one’s general knowledge wiping Illiteracy. I am seeing English medium schools in villages. It’s okay until if it doesn’t affect our culture. Children must learn to read, write and speak English. English culture teaches merrymaking. Whereas Indian culture teaches to serve others and introspect the spirituality content of life — who am I, why am I on this earth, what my purpose of life is. I will live for myself but at the same time will care for my neighbour, village and country.

So, a good teacher is necessary?
Yes. But the teacher must not look at his watch. He must look at his students and bring them up.

How necessary is health-related facilities in a village?
Instead of falling ill and consuming medicines I would say one must learn how to stay away from falling ill. Therefore, people must keep themselves and the surroundings clean. If there is clean drinking water no one falls ill. There must be no drainage water flowing on the roads. Earlier, 60K litres of water used to be wasted in drainage. Today, we have septic tanks for the latrines. We have separate septic tanks for 1100 students.These septic tanks then converge into a huge 20,00,000 litre septic tank. Now we put to use waste water and trees are standing tall, lands turning fertile.

Do you think villages must have govt hospitals?
Yes. I noticed people have health disorders due to bad eating habits. Like a goat, they keep munching vadapav, burgers, bhel etc. Overloaded digestive system leads to illness.

Don’t you get tempted by tasty food?
No! I don’t like these maida items like vadapav, burgers. In the breakfast, I take sprouts. Thus, I am fit at 80 (laughs)

Can ‘Ralegan model’ be replicated across India?
Other villages can become like Ralegan. It’s just a matter of leadership. And don’t give slogans like ‘adarshgaon’ to a village. Keep working. If you try to make a ‘model village’ then your attempts will be half-baked. You then stop at a certain stage. Never stop!
During Jan Lokpal movement of 2011, my college principal used to call me ‘Anna’. I was really inspired by your desh-bhakti and used to participate in rallies. But people used to call me ‘mad’. They said who thinks for the nation when one doesn’t have time to think for oneself?

You must be ‘mad’ for doing a good deed. Sometimes we turn half-mad. A karyakarta must be entirely mad only then he can do something right.
At various stages of my life, people called me ‘mad’. I slept at a bus-stand on a newspaper. I changed clothes in Mumbai’s beach and went to Mantralaya. I didn’t have money for food, so ate chana. I changed clothes in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan. I had no money for bus, so travelled in trucks. I could do all these things because ‘I was mad’. Madness provides happiness which even a millionaire can’t buy.
Maharashtra govt has placed Ralegan Siddhi on their tourist map. This might have given rise to lots of visitors.
In last 12 years, 8 lakh people have visited my village. I don’t look at government. I only fight.
But why fight govt? Ultimately it has the power to nourish a village through grants.
Who makes the govt? We do. If they don’t work, we must press their nose. Then their mouth will open. The govt fears us because it can lose the coming election. I sent six cabinet ministers in Maharashtra home. I am a fakir and did what graduates, double-graduates couldn’t do. We are 1.25 billion with over 6 lakh villages. Energies of our village youths need to channelized. They need to be seed for the country. Then India turns into a superpower.