The purpose of this visit of mine to Alirajpur was to assess the community work done for soil and water conservation with funds provided by the organisation I4FARMERS. A few months back this organisation which consists of people residing in the United States of America who are keen on addressing the problems of agriculture generally and Indian Agriculture in particular, started a new programme of recognising the efforts of farmers in practising sustainable agriculture. As part of this Guthia and his wife Chagdi were selected for their exemplary work in soil and water conservation on their farm. However, since it is the policy of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath not to award its members individually as whatever they have achieved would not be possible without the support of the KMCS and the Adivasi community, so the award money was spent on doin community soil and water conservation work. As part of this a team of ten households worked together on each other's farms for ten days constructing stone bunds to conserve soil. Guthia and Chagdi used their turn to reinforce one such mega sized bund they had constructed earlier. This bund due to its size needs to be reinforced every year with more stone bunding prior to the rains as shown below.
The whole vista in these villages has changed dramatically due to yet another development scheme of the Government. The Prime Minister's and the Chief Minister's Residence Scheme under which beneficiaries are given grants of one and a half lakh rupees to build brick and concrete houses. One village Gendra, on the way from Attha to Bhitada has become unrecognisable as the road there is lined with a series of pucca brick and concrete buildings where it used to be dotted with the traditional wooden tiled roof huts which have vanished.
One of the young boys of the village was getting married and in this too the impact of modern technology was visible. Earlier in such marriages the traditional drums and pipes used to be played without any amplification whatsoever. But now new electronic high decibel music systems have come into vogue and they blare their stuff throughout the night to which their frenzied dancing and then the bridegroom's party packs itself into a series of motor vehicles and goes off for the marriage to the bride's village instead of going by foot as was the custom earlier.
Two wheelers and four wheelers have become common currency in the area. I still remember that in the 1980s we had to get our wheat milled into flour in the market village of Umrali and then walk 16 kilometers up hill and down dale to reach our village with the load as in the villages there were only hand milling stones. Sometimes when our flour ran out we had to mill our flour by hand!! The people of Bhitada are greatly thrilled that the macadamised road to their village will become a reality within a few months. There are already two farmers who have bought four wheelers which carry the villagers and their produce to market. They are eagerly waiting for electricity to arrive. Thus, the ecological footprint of these simple farmers has shot up considerably with modern development having come to their villages finally after all these years.
Fossil fuel energy certainly increases productivity and makes life easier and so is always welcomed. However, it is possible to produce energy sustainably in a decentralised manner also. Unfortunately our highly centralised systems controlled by powerful corporations provide subsidies for centralised production of energy and externalise its social and environmental costs instead of promoting decentralised and sustainable production of energy. So three decades of community work in sustainable development by the KMCS stands sidelined due to the aggressive push of centralised energy and transport systems into this once remote area that has seen exemplary soil, water and forest conservation work.