Exploring Ahmednagar  
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Earlier Yatras
  CSE's eighth paani yatra (water pilgrimage) travelled to Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, understanding the remarkable works of the Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR), Ralegan Siddhi village and Hivre Bazar village. On October 29 - November 2, a group of 23 persons from across the country with different professional backgrounds participated. They represented government, non-governmental organisations, funding agency and, industry. There were students and individuals too. (See box: Yatris share)

CSE's presentation on its water campaign at WOTR's training centre in village Darewadi, about 80 kms away from Ahmednagar city, marked the beginning of the yatra. Later, 'Harvest of rain', a 48 minutes documentary, showing the rainwater harvesting practices prevalent in India was screened. WOTR also introduced the group with their activities and achievements.The first day ended with an hour of deliberations between the yatris and the members of Darewadi village watershed committee and self help groups on varied facets of community-based water management practices.

Meet the visionaries

Fr Hermann Bacher, chairperson, Watershed Organisation Trust
"Our main objective as a non-governmental organisation is to co-ordinate with the government and, work for the community's self-reliant development."

Anna Hazare, social reformer, Ralegaon Siddhi village
"Adherence to - nasbandi (vasectomy), nasabandi (prohibition), charaibandi (no open grazing), Kurhadbandi (no tree felling) and shramdan (voluntary labour), can only ensure development."

Popatrao Pawar, sarpanch, Hivre Bazar village
An ardent follower of Anna Hazare believes, "Development process needs both state and society to work together. However, the society should always be on the drivers' seat and work responsibly."

Village Devgaon and Shilveri in Akole block, Ahmednagar, was the first stop, where works ended this year. This is a high rainfall zone with undulating terrain. Following the WOTR's ridge to valley approach, both the villages enjoy cordial relationship with the forest department (FD). This approach makes it essential to begin watershed works from the ridge, an area that normally comes under FD's jurisdiction. As per a government order, 1992, WOTR has got exclusive rights to work in the reserve forest areas of Maharashtra.

While walking with the group from ridge towards valley, the villagers shared the processes behind the works shown viz., plantations on panchayat land and soil and water conservation works. Presence of water at check dam convinced the yatris about the value of several low cost structures like vegetative bunds. The functioning and post project maintenance arrangements were discussed during a two hour meeting with the villagers and the FD.

Next day, the group explored Darewadi village on foot. Everyone enjoyed the walk as there was something new to learn at every step. The level of transparency in the works done was evident through the map and tables on the wall of the village school. After returning back to the training centre, the group had an interactive session with Fr Bacher and Fr Robert from WOTR, who shared their experiences of mobilising communities for work.

Yatris share

"Paani he jeevan hai. Es ka sadupyog karna chaihya. Hivre Bazar mein loogo ne khod kam kar ke paani ko paida keya hai."
Satpal Singh, Sarpanch, Haryana

"Paani yatra was inspiring. I understood that a few drops of water could change the lifestyle of an area if it is wisely conserved and judiciously utilised."
P Biswas, Deputy Magistrate and Collector, West Bengal

Next stop was Ralegan Siddhi, where the yatris stayed at village's training centre run by Hind Swaraj Trust, a village-based NGO. The day started at the village's percolation tank, where the group was briefed about its journey from poverty to prosperity. Plantations, staggered trenches, earthen bunds, gully plugs, gabian structures and kolapur-type bandharas impressed everyone. The sight of water trickling between two structures and high water levels in wells left them speechless. A visit to village's school for the drop outs, drinking water scheme and media centre introduced them with other activities. A two and half meeting with Anna Hazare and his mother inspired many to work for their community, selflessly.

Hivre Bazar was the last stop. Popat Pawar, an enterprising sarpanch guided the visit, while showing yatris the works, which got Maharashtra its first National Productivity Award. The initiatives of Pawar to nurture the second rank of leadership in the village, unlike in Ralegan left the visitors satisfied that the works will sustain.
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