On the morning of 27th September I joined Mr. Milind Thatte from Vayam and Neena Pathak and Tia from Kalpavriksha to embark on a journey to Baripada village. It was a nine hour journey from Pune to Pimplener, and hence I had prepared myself to bombard Mr. Milind with all sorts of questions on how Baripada was able to achieve self sufficiency. It was a very informative Q&A session with Mr. Milind and how time flew by I didn’t even notice. So, here we were at Pimpalner sharp at 3.45 p.m.
After some quick snacks, we took a jeep cum taxi cum auto which took us to within 2 Kms. of Baripada. That was the closest any transportation vehicle went to Baripada. So, we had to walk the remaining distance up to Baripada, but we had no complaints as the scenic beauty of the route was spellbinding and I couldn’t stop myself from taking constant snaps from my phone only to realize later that I should conserve as much battery as possible if I wished to take more snaps the next day. After enjoying the 45 minute long walk, we reached Baripada and headed straight to Mr. Chaitram Pawar’s house. I had heard about Mr Pawar and how he led his village folks in attaining self sufficiency. I had expected Mr Pawar to be an aged person with some presence. But I was pleasantly surprised to see the real Mr. Pawar and had Mr Milind not told me who he was, I would never have noticed. He looked very young and for a man of his stature, his simplicity and selflessness was refreshing to witness. I immediately understood one reason why Baripada got to where it is today: they have an exemplary leader.
The remaining evening was spent in a small tour of the village followed by a meeting with the villagers, where Mrs. Neena Pathak discussed the Indian Forestry Act with the villagers and corroborated on how this Act could be utilized for the benefit of the villagers. In the process, we also found out how democratic and united the village was and that all the decisions were taken after discussions with the villagers and they had various committees to look after various aspects of administration. I also found out that, the next mission of the village was to get self sufficient in generation of power. They were exploring various ways by which they could attain this. For example, they had bought a Machine which produced oil on crushing certain seeds. However, the next step i.e converting this to electricity was a major concern and they were looking at companies which could help them in this area. We signed off for the evening after having a sumptuous meal at Mr. Pawar’s house and discussing which animals were present in the Village jungle; the mention of lion made me excited and I couldn’t wait for the next morning to explore the jungle and meet the king.
The next morning, I was awaken by the constant crowing of the village cocks. It was like a chain reaction and one after the other all the cocks started crowing. I finally gave up trying to sleep more and got up and got ready for our next mission: a visit to the village jungle. We were led by Mr. Pawar and two of his colleagues and they shared information about the medicinal properties of various trees that came in our way. We were also told about how an agricultural practice called ‘chaar sutli’ helped the villagers increase their rice productivity by 80 pc. Mr Pawar also enlightened us on why he gave importance to the jungle, land and water in order to attain self sufficiency. He said conserving the forests increased the water table, practicing good agricultural techniques, helped them to improve the yield from the land and conserving water by making percolation tanks, damns and small storage spaces further increased the availability of water. The combined effect of all the three exercises increased the productivity of the land and helped the village become self sufficient. From once depending for water on neighboring villages to now supplying water to the neighboring villages, Baripada has indeed come a long way. In the jungle I saw various contour trenches which basically helped in avoiding soil erosion due to rain. We were also shown a place where firewood was conserved and that area once used to be barren due to constant felling of these trees for firewood. But this was now an area covered with trees and the village had come to a decision that the villagers would be allowed to cut these trees for firewood for only a 30 day period during the year, this way they would be able to conserve the trees and at the same time have enough firewood available too. We also witnessed the percolation tanks and the water storage towers from where the water was sent to the neighboring villages. Overall the jungle trek was a very informative and a rewarding experience and although I didn’t get to see the lion, I thoroughly enjoyed traversing through the rough terrain.
Back after the jungle trek, we prepared ourselves to witness the annual biodiversity competition for the village women. The competition was into its fifth year and had been a great success. The women were supposed to cook unique dishes from the vegetation available in their jungle and the one who made the most exotic and unique dish would be declared as the winner. The other purpose of this competition was to collate data on the medicinal properties of various plants and vegetables and maintain a database for ready reference of the villagers. I must say the kind of variety I saw out there was amazing and I had a good time tasting all these dishes. One woman who was the eventual winner had prepared 17 different dishes in her plate. There was a big media coverage too for this competition and various dignitaries from the neighboring cities had come over. They included doctors, social workers and heads of different organizations. To conclude the competition, the dignitaries were invited to give speeches and express their ideas on how the village could be improved further.
After an engrossing 1 and a half days at Baripada, we left for Pune on Sunday evening. This was one of the most memorable experiences of my life and after witnessing the transformation of Baripada, I was left with questions as to why we cannot replicate the success of Baripada in other villages of the country. Probably because, not every village has a leader like Mr. Chaitram Pawar and more than the techniques, it is the resolve of the people and the unity amongst them that really brings about a revolution.