Come home to the Village

Last Updated: Fri, Dec 07, 2012 21:02 hrs

pRonnie Screwvala is trying to reverse rural migration by improving conditions in villagesppIn emSwadesem 2004 Shahrukh Khan plays a NASA scientist Mohan Bhagwat who comes to his village in India on vacation and decides to relocate permanently in order to use his education and skills to improve the lives of villagers Ronnie Screwvala who co-produced the film with Ashutosh Gowariker now wants real life to imitate artppScrewvala who sold his controlling stake in UTV the company he founded to Walt Disney early this year and is currently managing director of Walt Disney India hopes to facilitate the home-coming of migrants emà la Swadesem by improving living conditions in villages He is doing this through Swades Foundation the new name given to SHARE the corporate social responsibility wing of UTVppScrewvala&rsquos goals for the foundation are ambitious He says he wants both scale and impact &ldquoWe want to impact the lives of one million people in Ratnagiri and Raigad districts of Maharashtra in five years We will then exit these areas and move to other districts in the state and outside devoting five years to each place The objective is to make these villages suitable for migrants to return&rdquo he says He has put in Rs 350 crore of his own money into the foundation which he says will be supplemented with an equal amount in donationspp aligncenter ppSudhakar Adkale a computer engineer who lives in Santacruz Mumbai is a potential real-life Mohan Bhagwat A native of Ringicha Kund village located 200 km away in Mahad block of Raigadh district Adkale says he has great hopes from Swades Foundation&rsquos project &ldquoPeople should go back But it depends on how the plans are implemented&rdquo he adds Adkale studied in the village school till class seven before coming to Mumbai His father and divorced sister continue to live in Ringicha Kund but his nephew stays with him in Mumbai &ldquoI don&rsquot think my children can go and live there Not maybe in another 50 years&rdquo he saysppAdkale and around 150 other migrants from Raigadh have gathered in an auditorium in Mumbai&rsquos Matunga suburb to listen to Swades Foundation&rsquos plans for their villages It is a Sunday but the assembly sits patiently through the full-day programme &ldquoI feel bad for my village There is no water no school But it is also difficult to live in Mumbai&rdquo says Adkale Praveen Aggarwal who heads Swades Foundation says most migrants want to return home &ldquoWe have visited the houses of many migrants and found sometimes 70 people sharing a room They take turns to sleep at night&rsquo&rsquo says AggarwalppRingicha Kund is a small village with just 44 households and a population of 300 Most young men here have left the village to earn a living in the city leaving behind aged parents and womenfolkppSwades in its earlier avatar as SHARE has been working in many of these villages for close to 20 years Every house has a toilet smokeless stoves solar-street lights several water-harvesting structures have been built too But water is still a problem in peak summer Water scarcity is endemic in the green rocky mountainous terrain of Raigadh A large creek runs through Raigadh &mdash but its water is salty unfit for drinking or irrigationpp&ldquoWe have to let people fill water from taps rather than get water in buckets from a distant source&rdquo says ScrewvalappAt Nagaon Jangam Vadi village in Mahad a Swades Foundation project uses the earth&rsquos gravity to bring water through the year from a spring well to taps in the village In a village in Mhasla block a farmer collected rain water in a tarpaulin-covered pit and raised 14 different crops &ldquoWe took people from other blocks to see this farm and learn from it&rdquo says Babasaheb Shahaji Chavan agriculture officer at Swades FoundationppAt Ringicha Kund Swades has built walls to protect two natural water sources and also a rainwater harvesting structure that retains water till March But after April the villagers have no option but to buy water from a neighbouring villagepp aligncenter ppWhat will make Adkale come back to Ringicha Kund At the Matunga auditorium Vijay Shamrao Ranmala a social worker who oversees development projects in all 92 hamlets in Mahad block including Ringicha Kund lays out the agenda for the block in chaste Marathi as neatly-dressed Raigadhis sit in rapt attention &ldquoEvery Swades village will have easy access to safe drinking water toilets and additional sources of income related to agriculture It will have informed and empowered leadership including women&rsquos self-help groups farmers groups producers associations and so on which will have access to information on government schemes and best practices and will be linked to the marketplace Every family will have a bank account and access to formal credit&rdquo Adkale cheers up further at the mention of industrial investment in the areappScrewvala has a vision for the model villages he wants to create &ldquoBig bang approaches are not the best strategy&rdquo he says &ldquoIt has to be a lot of small things Creating jobs is different from creating occupations We are not here to create jobs We have to empower people to earn&rdquo he saysppRanmala says a beginning has been made by grafting around 3000 mango saplings with high-yielding Alphonso varieties in three villages These will yield fruit in three years Cashew is also being grafted with high-yielding varieties in Mahad and Mhasla which are focus blocks now &ldquoWe want to set up farmers clubs which can become producer companies of cashew and mangoes to supplement the single paddy crop they harvest in rain-fed farms&rdquo says ChavanppMost farmers here have tiny patches of land where they grow paddy which is mostly consumed through the year with little left over to sell Swades Foundation has introduced them to cash crops like turmeric and water melons besides goading them to grow vegetables with waste water There are scattered success stories A farmer in Ringicha Kund made Rs 3000 in three months growing vegetables on his patchppThere are no dairies so Swades has appointed veterinary doctors to advise villagers in artificial insemination informs Nicola Monteiro director social work It has also tied up with an NGO Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation which is working in 16 states and is known for scaling up agro-based initiativesppThe destruction caused by animals like boars and monkeys is another dampner Village elders in Pangari in Mahad block are negotiating with Swades to fence their fields &ldquoA fence around an acre costs Rs 60000 We are willing to help if villagers agree to have all fields share a common fence&rsquo&rsquo says AggarwalppA health-worker also has been appointed in some villages and Sightsavers an NGO has agreed to train villagers as barefoot ophthalmologists to screen patients for treatment in hospitals in towns On the skills front the Foundation is talking to a manufacturer of LCD panels to train villagers in repair and maintenance &ldquoWe want to design courses with partners Education has to include language skills technology computers and training in livelihood&rdquo says ScrewvalappSince this February when Screwvala announced Swades Foundation&rsquos agenda 60 people have been recruited The number will go up to 300 as the Foundation extends its operations to over 770 gram panchayats and population of 11 million A beginning has been made in about 160 villages says Screwvala In two years hopefully Adkale and other migrants will consider moving backp

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