Shodh Yatra Day 6 – February 4, 2011 Gondia
We started our day with a visit to the Datta Guru Temple at the outskirts of Gondia town in the morning. As we were walking back from the temple, people were curious about us obvious strangers in small town. A gentleman actually beckoned us to know from where we were coming from. I explained to him that I was on a Shodh Yatra and was going around the country talking to people of various walks of life, particularly poor people. He then introduced himself as Dhannalal Nagrikar. He invited us into his restaurant and told us about his public life. He has worked in various capacities like President of the Seva Sahakari Sanstha (Credit cooperative), Vice-President, Sinchan Sahayog Sanstha (Water Cooperation Association), District President of the Mahatma Phule Samata Parishad, (a socio political forum set up by Chhagan Bhujbal, the aspirant for Chief Minister-ship of Maharashtra). He was also the State President of the Mali Samaj, a social forum of his “backward” caste.
I asked him to trace out his political career. He said he was not in politics originally but used to manage the affairs of someone who was a well-known cooperator and President of the Credit Cooperative. Once that person became old, there was no one to take his place and someone suggested that Dhannalal should stand for the President ship. He did and won. Then he was wooed by various factions of the ruling Congress Party. He stood for the Zilla Parishad (District Council) President but lost by a few votes twice. But he was member incharge of public works with the biggest budget. But he found that the local MLA was not happy with him and that over a period of time money was becoming a dominant factor. “So I decided to work with social organisations like the Mali Samaj.” What does it do? “We give scholarships to promising boys and girls of our caste for higher studies. We arrange community marriages. We give messages like holding simple weddings.”
He urged us to see Shri Ranjit Jassani, a noted social worker of Gondia and introduced us to the Sarpanch Shri Akhilesh Seth and Deputy Sarpanch Ganesh Lanjewar. Their gram panchayat was very big and had 29 members. It had bagged the second prize of Rs. 7 lakh for the exemplary work done by them on Tanta Mukti Abhiyan (Dispute Resolution Campaign). “All types of civil disputes and family disputes are resolved in the village through a Lok Adlalat (people’s court). These small cases otherwise were going to lower courts and costing lots of money and taking years to resolve.”
See video interview:
A struggling soldier
Shri Ranjit Jassani is from Kutch, Gujarat, a region famous for its businessmen and traders, His father had come to Gondia in the early 1900s and became a successful businessman. He participated in the freedom movement and was the first MP from Gondia. Gandhiji, Sardar Vallabha Patel, Vinoba Bhave and Dr Rajendra Prasad had visited his house. All the photographs were displayed in his office. In his father’s footsteps, Ranjit also engaged in social work. He said he believed that do agri-business successfully, farmers have to have (i) the will to do (ii) water for irrigation (iii) technical know-how (iv) market linkages and (v) finance. He tried to work on various agricultural projects in Gondia district such as increasing irrigation efficiency, solving farmer disputes, promoting verrmi-compost, introducing new crops like potato and turmeric. He tried to introduce lac (organic resin) cultivation. He has done quite a few training programmes for the farmers. He founded the Sinchan Sahayog Sanstha to ensure better use of irrigation water from dams in the district. Yet, he was disappointed at the ppor response and lack of take up of the ideas.
I in turn, shared briefly my experience of promoting rural livelihoods in PRADAN and BASIX. Based on our field visit of the previous day, I mentioned to Shri Jassani that Gondia could introduce System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which would increase paddy yields to much higher levels. For his Sinchan Sahayog Samiti, I suggested a visit to and collaboration with DSC, Ahmedabad ( www.dscindia.org ) a leading NGO in the field of Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) and offered to introduce him to both SRI and PIM experts.
It was time now to bid goodbye to Maharshatra. To avoid taking a vehicle from one state to another, I had planned to cross into Chhattisgarh by train, ready to hang out of the crowded unreserved compartment for the short two hour journey. Though railway reservation at such a short notice is not usually possible, my colleagues were able to get us three confirmed seats in second class three tier sleeper. Samir Vaidya and Anand Naik had decided to accompany me to Chhattisgarh!