Mahendragarh district in Haryana has an Uttam Gram in progress
In the Uttam Gram (exemplary village) initiative of S M Sehgal Foundation, various development activities undertaken by the foundation team are being sustained in select villages by village development committees and gram panchayats. The Uttam Gram villages are good practice/demonstration villages for motivating and guiding the local population and organizations who intend to undertake village development activities through community participation and local institutions. Donkhera village in Mahendragarh district, Haryana, is one such Uttam Gram, where development activities on agriculture development, water management, and local participation were undertaken over a two-year span (2018–2020). The village development committee formed to sustain the development is taking a keen interest in maintaining and replicating the interventions, so that the entire village (2,800 population) continues to reap the benefits. Donkhera village falls in the dark zone for water availability. Groundwater has largely been exhausted, with availability limited to monsoon and a couple of months beyond. To address this, water-saving interventions in agriculture were undertaken on 100 acres with laser leveling, installation of thirteen mini sprinklers and five drip irrigation systems, which led to a water savings of nearly 106 million liters. In addition, farmer trainings for the adoption of these interventions through government schemes were actively taken up. The distribution of 180 packages of practices on wheat, mustard, and millet made farmers aware about the excessive use of DAP and urea, and motivated them to use micronutrients. The farmers’ testimonials show that the average crop yields increased by nearly 10–12 percent, and at the same time started the process of restoring soil health. Rajesh Kumar, a dynamic youth of the village, with an engineering degree, has taken up agriculture as a profession. He has been associated with the foundation team, which provides him tremendous opportunity to learn about good agriculture practices. He has been leading the Farmer Field School (FFS) in the village, in which a farmer’s field is developed as a model for demonstration of new technologies, seeds, leveraging government schemes, and diversified farming practices. Rajesh has a demo of a poly house nursery, drip irrigation, fencing, seed trays, stacking, and mulching in his FFS. He has shifted from wheat, mustard, and millet to vegetable cultivation focusing on tomato, onion, bottle guard, and carrot. He has also installed a solar water pump of Rs 3.50 lakh with the help of a government subsidy, which he learned about through a training organized by the foundation team. He increased his income three times by shifting to diversified agriculture. Nearly twenty farmers from nearby districts visit his FFS every day, and fifteen farmers from nearby villages have adopted the model of FFS. The income of these families has increased substantially, and they also provide employment to local laborers who work on the FFS. Water is essential to agriculture, and villagers realize its importance. The community in Donkhera collaborated with S M Sehgal Foundation in the selection of a pond site and build consensus by removing encroachments from the common land. One pond with 4.62 million liters of water storage capacity was constructed by the foundation. Just after a year of rainfall, the villagers shared that the water level in nearby wells increased by 30 feet. This demonstrates the water recharge potential of a pond. Seeing the impact, the villagers are persuading the gram panchayat to construct more ponds in the village. Allied activities such as goatery have also been very useful to the families in the village. Women of the village rear goats for generating additional income. In order to motivate more women to take up goatery as a business enterprise, goat units were given to thirty women. eight goat shelters (10 square feet bamboo structures) were given as a demonstration so that women can maintain better sanitation and care for goats, thereby reducing mortality. In addition, a local government veterinary doctor has been linked up with the families, so that they can have health services for their goats. Ms Ompati Devi, a woman who was given a goat unit, says, “I usually stayed at home, or went for daily wage work when available. I got five goats. The biggest benefit I believe is the milk we drink. Now our kids are healthier and less likely to be affected by disease. I also earned Rs. 20,000 by selling the male offspring of goats. Through reproduction, I now have a total of fifteen goats from which I will earn more.” Goatery interventions have enhanced the income of nearly thirty families of the village. In order to motivate villagers to sustain the development initiatives of the village, a village development committee (VDC) consisting of twenty-five villagers was formed in the beginning. The villagers were oriented on the role of the VDC, convergence with government departments for accessing benefits of government schemes, working with gram panchayats to influence development expenditure in the village, inclusion of women in decision-making of the village, and raising funds to maintain the infrastructure created in the village. The VDC met once a month to discuss the results of development initiatives and ways to take it forward. In the VDC meeting, the shortage of drinking water in the ward of the deprived communities was discussed, and the gram panchayat agreed to connect government water lines to a community water tank, which would supply water to 175 households. The community water tank with a capacity of 25,000 liters was constructed by S M Sehgal Foundation. As a result, these households are getting regular supplies of water. Furthermore, the villagers benefited from smaller initiatives such as soak pits for wastewater disposal, sanitation drives, and renovation of an Integrated Child Development Services center. Some VDC members who were inspired by ten solar streetlights installed in the village decided to use promote clean energy by providing solar water pumps through the government subsidy. The villagers installed fifteen solar water pumps in the village, using government schemes, reducing their dependence on diesel or electricity-operated water pump sets for irrigation. Some challenges such as alcoholism, patriarchy, division of communities into social and political lines, and inability of gram panchayats to get funds for infrastructure development will continue to slow the pace of social and economic progress of the village. However, development initiatives have certainly influenced the mindset of communities to think afresh for bringing positive change to their lives.