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Is it really hard to work for change in rural areas?
From January 2003 till February 2010, I was associated with corporate where horizon of work was very wide. In rural, only difference is that it is unorganised and that is because of lack of awareness and ‘systemic failures.’ Because of these two factors, we are not achieving the kind of development which should have been there. Since day-one as a Sarpanch, I am very proactive and exerting pressure on block, tehsil, district and even state level administration to bring in change. Some projects get stuck because of procedural bottlenecks. Can you imagine, a project gets technical clearance and then get stuck for one-and-half year for financial approval! But once a project is cleared and implemented, its impact gives me satisfaction. That is what drives me.
As Sarpanch of the village, do you think you have limited powers?
We need bottom-up approach for development of villages.Designations like MLA and MP are important but Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) are more important, even though they are not part of mainstream politics, as they can bring in change at grass-root level and that is required the most. PRIs are not getting the respect and power, they deserved. PRIs need to be empowered. Though I am not in mainstream politics, but I am not averse to that as long as I can act as a catalyst of change. Today, I am committed to my village only and may be tomorrow I would be for all villages of the state or nation.
How do see your journey so far?
Journey so far is satisfactory with some hits and misses. When I was elected as Sarpanch my first priority was to develop physical infrastructure and restoring the 100 acre reservoir which was soul of the village. Restoration was the water body became my top priority as this area is drought prone. Experts suggested that machines would be required and for that we needed huge funds. Ours is backward district and funds allocated to the district were meant for some specific works. The government did not allow dovetailing from other schemes.As support was not coming from any quarters, I was bit disheartened. We tried de-silting with the help of youth but government engineers warned us that by doing this manually, the job will not be completed even in 10 years. Silt was so hard that the strongest of our boys would find it difficult to do anything. Corporates were also not coming because Soda was not near their plant or units so under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), help would not come. It is an irony, big MNCs and domestic companies extract huge profits from rural markets but they do not want pay back anything. With a heavy heart I was running pillars to posts. Finally, I got some financial help from my father and four of his friends and some funds from our Jaipur-based hotel for the purpose of restoring the Taal.
How did you rope in a Corporate for your Taal project?
During seminars and conferences, I used to raise the issues related to village.At last my plea was taken seriously by Coca-Cola Foundation last year. The Foundation came out with help and instead of one-time financial help, we requested them to adopt the village. Thus we engaged them it whole development process. Now we have restored 20 acre and water in the Taal is sufficient for 2 years even if there is scanty rainfall. We aim to restore 50 percent of 100 acre by next two years. Plenty of water is now available for drinking and irrigation purposes. We have sent a proposal to the government department Public Health and Engineering Department (PHED), responsible for water supply in the state, for connecting the reservoir to every household with pipelines.Unfortunately nothing has happened so far.
What would be your top priorities, going forward?
Roads, electricity, toilets in every household, New Panchayat Bhawan, Atal Sewa Kendra ( Common Service Centre), health centre, schools and other infrastructure are in place in Soda. Our focus is to develop soul of the village, by which I mean development in true sense.I call it holistic development. During my second tenure which began early this year, I am focusing on development of agriculture, education, health, ecological balance, arts/crafts and sports. The challenge is to provide quality of education to the children and motivate them to work for livelihood in future. Without good foundation, they would not be able to do much. One teacher takes several classes of Hindi, Sanskrit and other subjects. How can we expect quality from such teaching? I am trying to reach out to trained teahers who can shape the future of the children.They can also excel in crafts and develop team spirit or entrepreneurship skills.