Author – Sanket Jain
With the launch of the National Smart Cities Mission in Pune, the Government of India has embarked on a major initiative of systematic urban development of cities. The smart cities project has caught everyone’s attention with various cities vying competitively to win the top position and access the allocated funds. While there is enough noise about developing smart cities, the key question that remains unanswered is, “Will the villages of India ever become smart?”
There is no doubt that villages not only contribute to the agricultural GDP, but are also the pioneers of successful small scale industries. There is a drastic need to implement ‘smart village’ projects in a few villages in India. They can be made smart with a proper developmental plan that enhances the availability of drinking water and then escalates to the enhancement of several projects like sanitation, eco tourism and organic farming to name a few.
Eckonirmitee, an organization that provides sustainable solutions in solid waste management has begun implementing this new concept of smart village in Maharashtra. The organization has proposed a 14-point development agenda for creating smart villages:
- Physical connectivity – transportation
- Digital connectivity – electronic delivery of services
- Economic connectivity – financial inclusion
- Knowledge connectivity
- Drainage & public sanitation
- Solid waste management
- Energy access & renewable energy development
- Skills & entrepreneurship development
- Eco-tourism & environment conservation
- Drinking water & watershed development
- Agriculture & organic farming
- Cultural inclusion
- Good governance
Over the last few years, it had undertaken several watershed development projects to revive the water bodies in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra. The watershed development project led the foundation of this smart village journey, which was then extended to sanitation and eventually skill development.
Rohit Sadaphal, CEO of Eckonirmitee said that Marathwada was particularly chosen since it is suffering from drought for several years now and reviving those drought-hit villages is of prime importance. After selecting the villages, Rohit took the local leaders into confidence before expanding the project further, since it was necessary for the local leaders establish the credibility factor to ensure smooth implementation.
In March 2015, a cluster of 15 villages was formed under the Marathwada Smart Village Cluster Development, which was launched in Tuljapur Taluka under the leadership of Shri Aditya Gore, Chairperson, Jeevanrao Gore Development Foundation. Darfal, Kajala, Kini, Ansurda, Vitthalwadi, Mangrul, Khunlewadi, Salgararadibi, Kabi, Pangarwadi, Waghali, Bhikhar Sarola, Barul, Dhabri, Kaliwadi, Ruibhar are the villages adopted by Shri Aditya Gore’s Foundation for this Smart Village Cluster.
The main tasks taken up under this program are:
- Mitigate drought that is consistent from past three years by reviving existing river streams, water conservation and native tree plantation
- Provide alternative livelihood opportunities to rural women and youth through skills training and entrepreneurship development
- Improve cleanliness index of village by establishing standard practices for solid waste management, provision of toilets, sewage management
Eckonirmitee is currently focusing on Karjule Village Regeneration Program, which is located on the Kalyan-Vishakhapatnam National Highway in Parner district of Ahmednagar. Currently, various activities are underway in Karjule to restore old water irrigation structures and streets of the village, drive tourism to Hareshwar Temple, construct toilets for schools and public places and creation of a centralized drinking water system.
Talking about the implementation of smart village projects, Suhail Chaturvedi, Eckonirmitee’s Sustainability Advisor mentioned that they had approached a large number of villages, but only a few responded positively. However, once the first project was implemented, the response has been quite positive as more and more villages are being covered. Now, with an aim to cover 100 villages, Eckonirmitee is working as advisory and project management consultant for 15 villages in Osmanabad district adopted by their partner NGO Shree Jeevan Rao Gore Development Foundation.
Creating Self Help Groups (SHG) is an idea that has worked among the selected villages in the Smart Village Cluster. So Eckonirmitee has focused on developing these SHGs and empowering women so that the societal attitude changes unanimously and people develop a self-sustainable model. Suhail said, “We have intervened in these villages with the idea of integrated skill development so that they can be turned into self-sufficient working models for others to follow. To ensure this, the organization provide technical assistance to the villagers for some time.”
Talking about agricultural projects like organic farming, Rohit said, “A project has been successfully running in Gondhawni village near Shrirampur in Maharashtra for the past 7 years.” A jaggery project was developed in Gondhawni where cross agriculture is practiced and sugarcane is the major crop. “The presence of earthworms in the soil determines the nutritive value of it and the project started with removal of chemical content from the soil,” explained Rohit.
Talking about the challenges, both Suhail and Rohit said that preventing open defecation was a major challenge because public sanitation wasn’t available in the villages and people weren’t accustomed to developments. Further, since they were working on reviving the rivers and preventing river bank encroachment, they had to face a lot of problems from the villagers, since this was a tremendous change in their locality.”
The major funding for the projects comes from public trusts, individual sponsors and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The biggest goal to be achieved for the organization is covering maximum villages and implementing a positive change. The smart village project, which started with 5 villages, has now expanded to 25 villages in rural Maharashtra.