Amid desperate denizens scrounging for water in the drought-affected parts of Maharashtra stands a village which has not felt the need to call a single water tanker for the last 21 years!
While other villages in the arid Ahmednagar district are digging borewells even up to 400 feet, the underground water table in Hiware Bazar is so good that the precious commodity is available barely 20 to 40 feet below. Though the village has banned water-guzzling cash crops like sugarcane and banana, farmers here are still far richer than their counterparts in the region. For the record, no family is below the poverty line.
Hiware Bazar, now a byword for watershed management and water conservation, had found special mention in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Mann ki Baat’ programme on Sunday. “People in this village have done exemplary work,” Modi had said. Village sarpanch Popatrao Pawar, who has been specially invited by Modi for a cup of tea, said, “We are glad that our efforts are being recognised.”
The road to shaping the village to be self-sufficient has been a long and arduous one. Like any other village in the region, Hiware Bazar used to face a major water crisis each year because of the measly 200-300 mm rainfall it gets. “We kicked off our water conservation efforts in 1994-95. Various watershed management programmes and water conservation initiatives were started. But we realised that this alone was not going to help. So we decided to choose a cropping pattern,” Pawar told TOI.
The village decided to shun water-intensive crops and opted for vegetables, fruits, flowers and pulses. Dairy development was encouraged. “We resolved that no borewell would be dug in the village and that every drop of water would be used cautiously. We have a water budget. The villagers meet on December 31 each year, during which a review of the rainfall and available water is taken. We then decide which crops can be grown in the next season. In fact, we decided to take a break from farming this year as there was no rain. The villagers reaped the last kharif crop and have stopped farming for the last four or five months since then,” he said.
Mohan Chattar, a villager, said taking a break from farming did not affect earnings. “The daily collection of milk in the village is itself about 4,000 litres. Dairy farming brings in good money. There is also enough fodder here,” he said. The village has a rule that no resident can sell his or her land to an outsider. “People from other villages migrate in search of jobs, particularly during tough times like these. However, the case is quite the opposite here. Around 40 families have returned to the village from cities over the last few years,” another villager said.
The villagers are not resting on their laurels and are already chalking out a ten-year plan. “Water scarcity is going to worsen. As part of our ten-year plan, we will opt for growing pulses and oilseed crops and brand them. This will not only boost our earnings but also help save water,” Pawar said.
Pawar is unwilling to blame the poor monsoon for water scarcity. “It is lack of vision and discipline that brings about scarcity and drought,” he said. Politics is a strict no-no in Hiware Bazar. “There is neither politics nor liquor shops in the village. Both intoxicate and destroy development,” said Chattar.