The Tale of a Village

In Amba, a remote village in Rama Block of Jhabua District inhabited entirely by Bhils, the National Centre for Human Settlements and Environment, acting under the sponsorship of the Jhabua District administration and zila panchayat is managing a micro watershed in this and other villages in the area. The Bhils, who are the most individualistic of tribals, prefer to live in their own little family �falia� on top of a hillock isolated from other villagers, are not a gregarious tribe, unlike the Gonds. This means that in the matter of coming together for doing community work the Bhils have always been more reluctant than the Gonds. The miracle in districts such as Jhabua is that thanks to the watershed development program a new sense of community organization has developed amongst the Bhils. This has manifested in itself in terms of active watershed development committees and user groups and even more active self help groups of women who have come together both for micro credit and for productive activity. This new feeling of community has brought about a change in the crime situation in Jhabua and is becoming a major instrument of checking seasonal migration. The watershed development program, therefore, is not only a major success as an environmental program and an economic program but is also a harbinger of social change in the Bhils tract.

The watershed development program, by demonstrating that with proper treatment of an entire micro watershed it is possible to change the water regime of a whole village hitherto notorious only for drought, has brought to the villages a new ray of hope. Everywhere that the program has been undertaken the wells have been recharged, soil erosion checked, irrigated cultivation has become possible in patches and there is a dramatic increase in fuel and fodder availability. For example, in village Khardpadi of Jhabua District one single hillock of approximately 480 hectares has yielded fodder worth rupees four and a half lakhs in the year 2002-2003 despite a very poor monsoon. This is in addition to a revival of the natural vegitation of shrubs and trees and a very healthy survival rate of planted saplings. In turn the fodder has been partly used for distribution amongst the members of the user groups and partly sold to give the village development fund an accretion of approximately rupees two lakh. This, mind you, in a region where the village together could not produce rupees two thousand in the past. As a corollary to the above is the formation of self help groups in which women come together and contribute anything between rupees thirty and fifty per month to the common kitty. Individual bank accounts are opened for each member of the self help groups and the groups are associated by the Swa-shakti Yojana of government and the banks, which have begun to have great trust in these groups. The self help groups are not only an organization of micro credit but they are now major foci of skill development, entrepreneurship development and the promotion of small businesses. What is more they are also very active on the social front with adult literacy, hygiene and health and reduction in alcoholism amongst men being some of the thrust areas.

However, returning to Amba, in this village there has been a substantial improvement in availability of water because of the treatment of the watershed, which includes loose boulder gulley plugs, earthen check dams, ponds and masonry stop dams. People want to use this water for irrigation, but electricity is in short supply and is available erratically. One of the self help groups has shown initiative and purchased a 7.5 kw/kva diesel generator set, which has been mounted on a makeshift trolley with modified bullock cart wheels for mobility. The generator is rented out to the local cultivators at rupees two hundred per day, with diesel being provided by the user. This costs another rupees two hundred fifty to three hundred per day, which means that the borrower spends approximately rupees five hundred per day for irrigating his fields. This in a state which hitherto had claimed to provide free electricity to farmers. Viewed from one angle the generator set represents initiative and innovativeness on the part of the Bhil women and the cultivators in acquiring a piece of equipment which locally generates electricity. Viewed from another angle it represents a total failure of M P Government and and M P Electricity Board to provide adequate power to villages, thus forcing the villagers to resort to one of the most expensive methods of generating power for irrigation. I came away from Amba elated at the type of work being done in the village and the ready adaptability of the tribal villagers to technology. I also came back sad that a state in which I have lived and served for forty five years and which was not very long ago surplus in power is now so impoverished that it is making the poor Bhils pay through their nose for what should be their birth right, affordable, reliable and readily available electricity.

Paul Theroux, in his book, �Riding The Iron Rooster�, has written that nothing is believed in China till government denies it. Amba proves that this is doubly true of India. Promises, double talk the �illusion city� which is Gehlot�s latest gift to Rajasthan, seem to be the political rule of the day. What is sacrificed in the process ? Good governance, accountability and, above all, electricity for all the Ambas of India and Madhya Pradesh.   


More by :  M. N. Buch

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