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Anna Hazare is soldiering for rural regeneration[continued]

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The Ralegan that he returned to in 1975 was as we saw, a heartache place. A drought in 1972 had crippled it further. Fist fights and vandalism throve around the liquor vends and the bazaar. Wood work from the now crumbling temple had been ripped out to stoke the stills. But there were some game triers at reforming this unruly village. A relief committee run by the Tata group was reaching out. Catholic Relief Society supplied food grains to keep off hunger. And then there was Ashok Bedarkar, a young professional managing the Tata programmes. Hazare began looking for a beach-head to start his campaign. Unmarried at 35 made him rare. And his giving away his pension money to the needy made him an odd ball.

Changes fit for Ripley's:

Prompted by his intuition and powered by the settlement funds from the army, he renovated the village temple. And began to live --as he does till this day-- in two rooms there totalling, 200 sq. feet. Slowly people began to come and meet this man with strange ideas on money. By now he had earned their trust and the Maharashtrian honorofic, 'Anna'. The road out of the village's problems had to be built with contributed labour or 'shramdaan', he lectured. Each of the 250 families had to send one volunteer per day per week. Each day's labour counted as a Rs.30 contribution and earned Rs.70 from the government. Thus began small watershed works. As soon as about 60 small bunds, check dams, trenches and percolation ponds had been built there was a dramatic change: water table rose throughout the village. Anna had changed a despairing mind set and set the pace for galloping changes.

Within three years farmed acreage grew from 80 to 1300. Farmers gave away over 500 acres in the catchment areas. Village labour engineered these for harvesting all the rain that fell. Soon they were raising three crops a year and exporting table produce to the cities and even overseas. They worked out a water use regime: water drawal and crop selection is strictly regulated based on the rainfall and by sounding the water table. Today nearly 90% of the arable land is farmed. Along the way, Anna persuaded the villagers to accept the 25 Dalit families as their own, fought off the liquor barons, chastened the wife-beaters [--he had them thrashed in public], drove tobacco out of town, began a massive afforestation programme, built 11 bio gas plants, a 65 feet dia. community well and as a crowning innovation, started a Grain Bank, at the temple: anyone can 'borrow' grains when in need and return when able, with a little 'interest' added. Not many borrowers these days, though -- mostly farmers come bringing a little of their surpluses to add to the bank's reserves.

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