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Anna Hazare , the force behind Maharashtra's model village of Ralegan Siddhi and the Adarsh Gaon Yojana (Ideal Village Programme), is also in the limelight for his crusade against corruption in public life. Rakesh Agrawal spoke to him in Ralegan Siddhi
On the decision to fight against corruption and its link with his work on rural development:
I realised that on one hand we were relentlessly involved in developmental activities, and on the other, these activities were getting nullified upto a great extent by the menace of corruption. It was like filling a pitcher drop-by-drop that gets emptied through the countless holes it has. One has to plug these holes to achieve tangible results. So I decided to fight corruption wherever it was visible. Both the activities had to go simultaneously.
On the reason for targeting only the two departments (water resources and agriculture) of the government:
These are the two departments that affect us the most. Besides being the centres for rural development, they are the centres for human development as well. This is the reason we are targeting them, but our crusade will be against all other corrupt departments also. It is high time the government took note and was committed for rural development.
On the appropriate direction rural development should take
Rural development is a must for a country to progress. As Gandhiji visualised, the country can become independent only when self-dependent villages develop. That is, sufficient work, enough food, clothing and shelter for the people. If these fundamental necessities of people are met in their own villages, they won't migrate to cities. Secondly, without exploiting nature, and only using its bounty, we can make the person, the village and the society, self-dependent. Today, what we call development is actually regressive development which is not sustainable. After a few decades it will cause havoc as it is heavily dependent on exploiting nature and environment.
Ralegan Siddhi has shown the way. We did not take money from any external agency. It was the government's money and projects that were used and implemented efficiently and soon, the people became independent; now they are exporting vegetables and foodgrains. If the entire country had followed this pattern of development, it would have not been in the present economic crisis. The environment too wouldn't have been poisoned. We have to make the village the central point of development and stop exploiting the environment. For that, we have to follow Gandhiji's ideals and if we don't, then nature itself will force us to follow his path.
On the possibility of rural development independent of foreign funds:
Carrying out rural development by using foreign money is not sustainable. Forget foreign funds; taking money even from our own country, that is, from outside our villages, is not justified. People should be self-dependent as far as development is concerned. Of course, villages that are poor and backward can take money from other institutions within the country, but once they have achieved a certain level of development, they should not take money from any external agency. A small child uses a walker to learn to walk; once he is able to walk, he discards the walker. But here, people have become habitual users of walkers all their lives and have eventually become lame. No development should be based on donations.
On the involvement of the government in Adarsh Gaon Yojana:
This is a plan supported by the government but will be implemented by the people through their own voluntary organisations. We conceived the project in such a way that although the government will release money for the Yojana, it will not interfere in it. The government has finally agreed to this after relentless pressure for four years. Perhaps it agreed so that I do not switch loyalties (and walk into the opposite camp), and also as it knew that I wasn't taking the money for my personal benefit.
On the contradictory approach of fighting against corruption and taking money from the government:
No, there is no contradiction in this. We are doing the government's work and the government's money is people's money.
On the role of people in the Yojana:
The entire management of the Yojana is done by us. There are state, district, block and village level committees to manage the Yojana. The government representatives are there in these committees to see whether the money is being spent as per the government's norms.
On the implementation of the five principles of Adarsh Gaon:
They are quite difficult. But for self-sustainable development of villages, they are necessary. To save the environment, chara-bandi (ban on grazing) and kurhad-bandi (ban on tree-felling) are a must. They will help conserve soil and water and will purify air. Nasha-bandi (prohibition) is necessary for an overall development of a person and nusbandi (sterilisation) is the only way out to control the country's population. Lastly, shramdan (voluntary labour) will make people feel that the various developmental works are their own.
On the difference between Adarsh Gaon Yojana and the Maharashtra government's earlier plan, comprehensive watershed development programme (cowdep):
There was extensive corruption in cowdep . Also, there were no prohibitions like nasha-bandi laid down in it. There was no inter-departmental coordination and it was not an integrated watershed development programme. In our Yojana, we have taken the technical component very seriously and have followed it from top to bottom -- a ridge-to-valley approach.
On whether Adarsh Gaon Yojana will be successful:
It is too early to say anything, but I am confident that after four years, it will become an example in Maharashtra that can be followed in the entire country.
On his future plans:
We want to awaken the people, create peoples' organisations and make them fearless. Today, people are afraid of speaking against the government, but tomorrow they should be able to challenge it. Secondly, we want workers for our mission from all over Maharashtra. We want people to exercise their right of questioning the government about the way it is spending their money. We will establish inquiry committees at state, district and taluka levels. These committees will supervise all expenses and check corruption in the system.