Beating the scorching afternoon heat this summer, with the beaming face, farmers Gajendra Singh and Babu Khan under a tree on the bank of Shiv Taal in village Soda talk about the transformation that their village witnessed in the period of last five years. Referring the Taal, which is now full of water, Singh and Khan says that it was because of relentless efforts made by their Sarpanch Chhavi Rajawat. The reservoir is full of water. Khan and his fellow villagers are very confident that the Taal has now enough water for the next two years even if there is no monsoon this year.
Since decades, Soda villagers have had very tough times because of lack of physical infrastructure.They then compelled a corporate lady to quit her job and take up responsibility of Sarpanch. The plight of her village and request from fellow villagers forced Chhavi to quit her corporate job and after being elected as a Sarpanch. Her passion for development of soil and soul of Soda surprised everyone.
Connectivity to the village Soda is not of much difficulty. Just after 60 kilometers from Jaipur towards Malpura, a four kilometer Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak connects Soda to Jaipur- Bhilwara Express Highway.
The most striking feature in the express highway is, it connects to a very long and wide stretch (100 acre) of the reservoir (Taal) known as Shiv Taal.It is known to be a life-line of Soda villagers and nearby villages and Dhanis (Hamlets) as well. The Tall even tales the story of hard work, determination and commitment of the Soda villagers led by their Sarpanch.
It took almost five years to restore water in 20 acre of the Taal which was not desilted in the last 70 years. Now it has plenty of water.
Prioritising the basic needs for the village, Chhavi gave top priority to the restoration of the village water body as drinkable water source in the drought-prone situations.Soda comprises of 950 families who subsist on small landholdings and the livestock. However, a surge in population and livestock over the last few decades has depleted resources. The only water reservoir dried up and became an eyesore collecting silt, and groundwater levels dropped.
“We got water profiling of the village done from a government lab.It resulted that the water is not suitable for irrigation. Because of contaminated water, our children were suffering from ‘Down Syndrome’ and childhood spark was completely missing,” says Rajawat.
De-silting and reviving the water body began in May 2010 and by July 10 acre was completed. Last year with the help of a corporate company another 10 acre was added. Luckily, during last two years monsoon was normal and water table went up considerably.
Apart from potable water for villagers, cattle and livestock also get water from the Taal. “Over 65 percent of the cattle and livestock had died due to lack of water and fodder over the past decade or so,” says Rajawat.
With sufficient water in the reservoir, water level of wells has gone up. Animals get plenty of water for drinking and with better irrigation agriculture income has increased.
“Whole village owe much to Chhavi madam and her relentless efforts not only restored the Taal but brought in everything needed here. With availability of water for irrigation, our agriculture income has gone up,” says Khan.
Chandrakala and Asha Kanwar, the two Anganwadi workers say, “Earlier, everyday we had to walk nearby two kilometers to fetch water. Today we just pull water from the wells or turn on the tap. This gives us the flexibility to work.”
The reservoir not only serves as a catchment for rainwater. But it also acts as a feeder to the 70-odd wells in a 15-km radius, ensuring the hamlets surrounding the main village have access to drinkable water. Groundwater levels are back to a healthy 20 feet.
Chhavi was elected Sarpanch in February 2010, and Soda hasn’t looked back since. Today the village boasts the primary health centre and Anganwadi workers, to ensure all expectant mothers and infants are immunized and vaccinated. They also maintain properly navigable roads and ensure toilet’s are provided in every home.The children get clean water and compulsory education at primary-secondary school.
One can easily witness signs of development while walking through the lanes of Soda. New Panchayat Bhawan, much more spacious than the previous, is almost ready. Land for the Bhawan was donated by Sarpanch-Panch family.
“The Bhawan would be inaugurated soon.The new building is equipped with all facilities necessary for Gram Panchayat. Now people will not have to travel Malpura Panchayat for availing common services like ration card, aadhar, pension, birth-death certificates etc as Atal Seva Kendra ( Commmon Service Centre) is functional here.It is a great help for the villagers,” says Shailesh Bisht, who works for an NGO in the village.
Agriculture income is not sufficient and sustainable for the majority of Soda villagers. “We have nearly 70 self-help-groups in the village.Unfortunately we do not have trainer for skill development programmes. It is a big challenge and without qualified trainer, it is difficult to create a self sustainable model for alternate or supplementary income,” says Rajawat
“But I am optimist and will find out ways to resolve this challenge,” Rajawat says.
Every household in the village has proper sanitation facility due to various awareness programme conducted in their village regularly.Ram Charan Mali, a villager says, “ Six years ago, Soda was struggling for basic facilities like pani, sadak and bijli (water, road and electricity) along with other civic facilities. Transformation began once we got a new and hardworking Sarpanch who not only loves the village but committed for its development.”
With all basic physical infrastructure and civic amenities in place, Soda is now gearing up for its soul development. Chhavi’s mother Harsh Chauhan says that their focus would be on women and child.
“We have requested to conduct one session in the village school where we would impart different kinds of skill training. If our children start earning while learning, it will enhance their confidence. We have several women SHGs in the village and we have took an initiatives to provide some kind of earning opportunity,” says Chauhan, who is now Panch of Soda Panchayat.
“We are trying to rope in NGOs and corporates and request them to adopt the village. Adoption is a better option as it engages you forever and you become part of whole development process,” Chauhan adds.
Albeit in lighter vein, Chauhan says, “ You must have heard about ‘Sarpanch-Pati’ or brother and father of a Sarpanch in Rajasthan usurping power and duties of a duly elected uneducated women Sarpanch. But our is a classic case of ‘Sarpanch Daughter and Panch Mother.”
“During Chhavi’s first tenure, my husband supervised all physical infrastructure development works and finally the job took toll on his health. But villagers did not allow us to be distanced from them and this time they did not elected Chhavi with a better margin than previous but also compelled me to take up the responsibility of Panch,” Chauhan says.
Undoubtedly, Chhavi Rajawat has been developing soil and soul of Soda and it is evident with her re-election as Sarpanch that the villagers want her to continue with the same passion to make it an ideal village in the state.Chhavi’s team is expanding and now nearby villages also seek help for their developmental activities.