A successful case of participatory watershed management at Ralegan Siddhi village in district Ahmadnagar, Maharashtra

This case study from FAO deals with participatory watershed management at Ralegan Siddhi village in district Ahmadnagar. In recent years the notion of sustainable development has emerged as a reaction to the highly technological and centralized processes that have governed thinking on development, the green revolution being a classic example.

Some initiatives in India have grappled successfully with this complex process, and different models of people driven development have emerged. The remarkable work by Mr. Annasaheb Hazare in Ralegan Siddhi village has been summarized below –

  • When he first returned to his village in 1975 it was a extremely degraded village. There was large scale migration, ill health, low productivity and a flourishing business in the illegal distilling of alcohol, resulting into violence especially against women. Today Ralegan is unrecognizable. Productivity has increased manifold. There is a sense of community and sharing among all the people, and complete self-sufficiency in foodgrains. Ralegan only demonstrates what village people can do when they take control of their own development. It serves as a testimony to community interest taking precedence over self-interest. This miracle was achieved by:
  • The emergence of local leadership: Annasaheb Hazare is from the village and his intimate knowledge of the community, its culture and traditions and his exposure to the outside world enabled him to play the role of a catalyst and a bridge.
  • Underpinning of moral sanctions: He recognized the conflict in development between old and new, traditional and modern, violent and peaceful. His intervention gave space to the traditional leadership to reassert their moral authority and lay the foundation for a moral just and human social order. The basis of Annasaheb Hazare 's intervention is a moral and voluntary code of conduct which has been adopted by the entire village community. This is a six point program that includes: ban on open grazing; ban on tree felling; ban on dowry; ban on consumption of liquor; family planning; and donation of labor (Shramdan).
  • Involvement of all sections of society, especially the weak and vulnerable: Right from its inception, the Ralegan village participation process involved women and lower castes (Harijans) in all planning and implementation.
  • Identification of People's Priorities: Annasaheb Hazare being a son of the soil, was able to identify water development us the primary need of the village, and that helped to mobilize popular opinion in his favour.
  • The use of simple but effective technology: Annasaheb recognized that merely providing strong moral basis would be insufficient to motivate people towards constructive change. His intervention to manage rain-water run off through watershed development was cheap, local, and maximized their use of local resources especially labor.
  • Holistic and sustained development: Having started with water management, Annasaheb Hazare went on to include community work to prevent erosion and to promote widespread afforestation. The holistic impact of these measures began to be felt within a decade. It is note worthy that the villagers have been working continuously on this process for the last 20 years by now. Thus, long term continuity is a vital ingredient in the strategy for sustainable development.
  • The primacy of the village assembly (Gram Sabha): Although Annasaheb has taken the leadership in Ralegan, all major decisions are taken in the Gram Sabha, which has institutionalized a democratic style of functioning.

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