They built roads in a village so remote that it’s not found on the map. They made artificial glaciers on the hills of Ladakh giving the villagers a five-time raise in monthly income. They experimented with pomegranate farming, leading to a bumper yield from 2.5 crore plantations in Gujarat. Sangeeta Yadav met up with some of these achievers to bring you a heartwarming story of development
Sowing hope & inspiration
At age 51, Patel Genabhai Darghabhai from Banaskantha district of Gujarat looks as strong as his determination that led him to take the road less travelled and make a mark in the agriculture industry. Being differently-abled since birth and having least interest in studies, Darghabhai had very limited options.
“I’m handicapped since birth so I was unable to do traditional farming. Since my parents are illiterate, they made sure that their children should at least complete schooling. My elder brother used to carry me on his shoulder to the school daily but I was never fond of studies. I used to beat his head pleading with him to not take me to school but he would never listen to me. When I completed my studies, I was clueless about how to make a good earning,” Dharghabhai tells you.
Hailing from a farming family, Dharghabhai decided to do something different in the agriculture sector. The income from traditional farming was around Rs10,000 per annum which was insufficient for even routine expenditure. He brainstormed on various ideas, consulted many people, including agriculturists and family members, and finally zeroed in on cultivating pomegranates.
“I thought a lot about which crop would require less maintenance. Since the climate in Gujarat is very dry and hot, we can only sow a handful of things like castor, pulses, sesame and ground nut in kharif crop; wheat, mustard, fennel in rabi and bajra in summer. After a long discussion, my parents and brother allowed me to cultivate pomegranate fruit. I was taking a very big risk and many people warned me. But I was confident. Pomegranate farming suited best for that kind of temperature and once you crop it, you don’t have to do anything for 20 years,” Darghabhai says.
Making use of the Government scheme of 50 per cent subsidy, Darghabhai cultivated the Bhadwa (Sinduri) pomegranate variety in his fields. He also set up the drip irrigation technique across his land. He did all this without a loan. After sowing the seeds in 2004, Darghabhai didn’t expect any returns for two years. So he did intercropping and also set-up a dairy farm with 12 cows.
“When I shared this idea with the villagers, they said no. Initially, I had no support. They used to say yeh apaahij sabko apaahij ker dega’ (This handicapped person will handicap everyone else),” Darghabhai recalls.
But finally his trees bore fruit which sold at good prices. He cultivated pomegranate on over five hectares of land and produced 53,902 kg pomegranate. He earned Rs3.14 crore net profit against an expenditure of Rs61.3 lakh.
“For every acre of routine farming, the other farmers used to get Rs20,000 to Rs25,000. But my plantation gave me Rs10 lakh profit,” Dharghabhai says.
Seeing this, a lot of villagers started following in his footsteps and diverted from traditional farming to horticulture farming. Dharghabhai also started conducting workshops for villagers on pomegranate farming for which he brought in agricultural scientists and experts.
“We conducted interactive workshops with villagers and experts who would tell us the right way for cultivation. This resulted in cropping of 2.5 crore pomegranate plants on around 30,000 hectares in north Gujarat and south Rajasthan regions,” he says. Darghabhai now plans to expand his venture to organic farming.
Ask him how life has changed and he proudly replies:
“I used to travel in a three-wheeled cycle and go to school. Then came a three-wheeled scooter and now I travel in a car. Every farmer used to dream of buying a cycle, now they are all travelling in cars.”
Road to development
It’s rare to have people like Dashrath Manjhi, the mountain man who spent 22 years to carve out a road through a mountain. But Rajaram Anandrao Bhapkar from Maharashtra is no less. He took 57 years to cut through seven hills and make a 40 km long road connecting a village to a school, thereby reducing the travel distance for children from 38 km to 7 km.
A former teacher from Gundegaon village of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra, Bhapkar Guruji had to commute 38 km daily on his cycle, crossing three villages to reach his school in Sriginda. Till a few years ago, nobody knew there was a village called Gundegaon in Maharashtra. This remote region was never marked on the map or acknowledged by the Government and politicians for development schemes. But one man brought this village into the spotlight through his extraordinary work.
Living in a house which has three walls and the fourth side opening up to trails, Guruji used to gaze at people struggling to cross the trail. A thought struck him and he went on to build a road all by himself.
“The village was isolated geographically as it was surrounded by mountains. At the time of Independence, there was not even a walking trail connecting Gundegaon to any village. No roads mean no development. Commuting every day was an uphill task. The village, overlooked by the Government, lacked even the most basic facilities like water, energy and jobs. So, I decided to build a road and link it to other villages and towns so that the people could commute easily,” says the 83-year-old, who was honoured with the Rashtriya Swayamsiddh Samman by the Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) Foundation for rural development.
The project kickstarted way back in 1957, three years before Manjhi took on his task. Initially, Guruji got a lot of criticism from the villagers and nobody came to help out. Bhapkar had to hire some daily wagers. Besides yielding the spade and shovel himself, he also hired heavy duty excavator machines for expediting the road work.
“The biggest hurdle was to convince the farmers to give up a part of their land for the road. A lot of people resisted. The Government can acquire the land but not a private individual like me. People thought I was mad and called me pagal aadmi. I took it in a positive way. To do such a huge task, you require a certain amount of madness. When the villagers realised I was doing good work, they finally agreed to help me. Today my work speaks for me. My parents have been a great inspiration as they always taught me to work for the welfare of society,” Guruji tells you.
“He would motivate people to do some work on the trail. So passers- by would volunteer for two hours and go. Some contractors also helped him out by lending their labour and JCB machines at a low price. When these labourers didn’t have work, they would volunteer to put in two hours on Guruji’s project,” Yogendra Jahagirda, one of the volunteers, tells you.
He not only built the road but also made a sabha mandal for the travellers to rest.
“There was a religious place where people would go once a year. But due to lack of a proper road, not many people would come for the yatra. So Guruji built a sabha mandal near the road. Pilgrims would pull over for rest. The yatra that used to happen once in the blue moon is now happening regularly,” Jahagirda says.
Strangely, no Government or NGO came forward to support Guruji. He didn’t take a single penny from the villagers. He spent all his hard-earned money, post-retirement benefits and pension to fund the road work.
“He must have spent Rs40 lakh which he had. When he retired, there was a 15-year loan facility on his pension. Guruji took a loan from the Government which was equivalent to 15 years of his pension and completed the road work,” Jahagirda tells you.
What started off as a mad man’s project is now benefitting lakhs of people. The road got completed in 1997 and has benefitted over 1.75 lakh people from 19 villages.
After this initiative, the route to Kolegaon via Deulgaon which was 29 km long shrunk to just 10 km. The village economy got a boost with farmers being able to directly sell their produce at Taluka and make more money by the elimination of the middleman.
Ask him what name he would give to the road he built so painstakingly and Guruji says:
“I’m not interested in giving it a name. That my dream to build a road to development has come true, means my job is done. But, we have to maintain the road or it will get buried,” he fears.
Other than that, he says with some amount of rancour that
“I’ve still not got any support from the Government. Once they acknowledge it and give it an identity, it will be on them to take care of it.”
The Glacier Man
Travelling to Ladakh and exploring its natural beauty is a dream for many. But there is one person who is not only living his life in harsh weather but also innovating techniques to solve climate problems that make life difficult for local inhabitants.
Popularly known as the Glacier Man, 79-year-old Chewang Norphel, a retired civil engineer from Ladakh, has built artificial glaciers in hills to help villagers deal with water scarcity. He has created a water channel for harvesting at a very high altitude. It has enabled villagers to grow vegetables which give them five times higher returns over growing wheat or barley.
“Ladakh is a rain shortage area with just 50 to 100 mm rain a year. The main source of irrigation is the snow that melts and flows down the river. So summers are a bad season for hilly regions. The income of farmers cultivating crops like peas, potatoes and other vegetables is more profitable. But to cultivate veggies, a lot of water is required. So I thought of creating an artificial glacier on low altitude. Due to this, people are now getting water any time, any day,” Norphel tells you.
Three decades back, the scenario was different. There used to be a lot of snowfall in the winters forming many glaciers. Today, due to global warming and climate change, all our glaciers start receding June onwards.
“They are only found on mountain peaks. The sowing period is very crucial for farmers but they were unable to get water on time in April,” Norphel explains.
Looking at their plight, Norphel came up with the idea of an artificial glacier utilising cold energy.
“People use wind, solar and water energy but nobody thought of using cold energy that way. Since Ladakh is the bank of cold energy, I experimented by preserving water from the natural glacier in the form of ice. To check its velocity, we created small water channels where all the glacier water gets stored and we released water in small quantity into the garden below. When the volume of the water decreases, its velocity comes down and this leads to freezing. We then built an ice retention wall step by step. One has to see how much water is available in the winter. Without water, we can’t make an artificial glacier. You can create an artificial glacier at a site which is less exposed to the sun. That’s how the winter water gets stored in the ice form there,” Norphel explains.
Norphel created a network of water channels and small dams at an altitude of 13,000 feet and above. The water from the mountains is directed to the mountain slopes through channels and stored in the form of ice during the long winter period. With the onset of summers, when farmers need water for sowing their crops, the artificial glacier which is created at an altitude lower than natural glaciers, melts early and provides the much needed water.
So far Norphel has created 13 artificial glaciers in the village. Apart from providing water to farmers during this crucial period, these glaciers also help in recharging the ground water.
“Due to artificial glaciers, we can recharge ground water which leads to regeneration of springs in villages. Now that the villagers are getting enough water in spring season, their incomes have gone up five times,” Norphel says.
Norphel has spent all his life in rural development through this initiative but says initiative like these can never be successful without the support of each household. It becomes all the more difficult to work in hills as the labour efficiency gets low on high altitude and due to lack of proper roads.
“I started this work in 1987. At that time, I was a Government servant. The first artificial glacier I created cost Rs90,000. When I went to the village to see their response, I saw that they were very happy. Then I expanded it to other regions. There was no source of funds at that time but after seeing the success, a lot of people came forward to help. I got help from the Science and Technology Centre in Jammu & Kashmir, Operation Sadbhavana, a social development initiative of the Indian Army, and from the Watershed Development of India,” Norphel tells you.
(The article was published in The Pioneer Newspaper – http://www.dailypioneer.com/sunday-edition/sunday-pioneer/special/proude-to-be.html).