The soul of India lives in the villages. India’s growth as a nation is possible only when the majority of people living in the vast rural expanse of India are adequately empowered and be the masters of their own lives.
The idea of Model Gaon was inspired by the dream of Dr Heera Lal, IAS who had the vision to create self-sufficient villages which would be the key centers of economic growth.
Dr Heera Lal had served as the District Magistrate of Banda in Uttar Pradesh from August 2018 to February 2020. Under his leadership, Banda progressed in various fields like water conservation, rural employment, prison reforms and many others. The Model Gaon program has been inspired by his vision of creating self-sufficient model villages and his developmental initiatives taken at Banda.
Click on the Google Drive link below to learn more about his initiatives at Banda:
Creating Village Manifesto for every village taken up under the program, empowering Change Makers who will inspire his or her fellow villagers, setting up of FPCs (Farmer Producer Companies) that will lead to the economic independence of the farmers and taking part in the nation-wide Swachh Bharat Abhiyan forms the core of Model Gaon program.
According to Dr. Heera Lal, IAS there are three basic reasons for underdevelopment in rural areas. “Firstly, villagers do not understand what ‘development’ implies and even if they know they are not confident of it. Secondly, they do not know all the parameters of development. Lastly, there is no strong demand for development among the villagers,” he explained. Thus the Model Gaon program aims to bring about a comprehensive change in the mindset of people.
Empowering the villagers
Model Gaon is an initiative aimed at transforming India’s villages into model villages. Through this idea of development, villagers are made aware of what development is and what are areas of development that villagers should be in the know-how of.
Saurabh Lall, the CEO of the Model Gaon project explained, “To take these ideas to the villagers, we have developed a free, online digital tool called Village Manifesto. Simply, any common villager can log onto our website and create his/her personalized village manifesto.”
Apart from this online tool, village level meetings are also held with villagers directly to explain the idea of development to them.
Taking it deeper
While the first phase of the Model Gaon project focussed on spreading awareness, the second phase is aimed at bringing the concept to the doorsteps of the direct beneficiaries.
At first, some selected gram panchayats are identified where a baseline survey is conducted. This data bank helps in mapping the current status of each gram panchayat across various parameters like employment, education or health. Once this database is ready, the priority agenda is co-identified with villagers and ward members. This helps in understanding the sequence of convergence that we should introduce for development work.
These priority agendas are included in the gram panchayat’s GPDP (gram panchayat development plan) so that these can be worked upon as per the constitutional framework.
Partnership with major players
The Model Gaon initiative is supported by ICICI Foundation which is India’s leading financial institution, ICICI Bank’s CSR wing. Saurabh Lall mentioned, “Their development sector experience has been crucial in shaping our approach.”
The Model Gaon is also closely working with various organizations or institutions across multiple domains like knowledge sharing, marketing linkages for Farmer Producer Companies or capacity building.
Recently, Model Gaon has collaborated with Chandra Shekhar Azad University of Agriculture and Technology Kanpur in developing villages adopted by them as model villages.
“Our direct engagement at the elemental level is helping us build trust and consensus around the idea of holistic development in villages,” Saurabh Lall emphasized.
The progress so far
Model Gaon’s awareness drive has already created footprints across 20 states of India with around 10 Gram Panchayats (Village clusters) covering around 30000 thousand people, are already being developed in association with Model Gaon. “One stand-out positive impact of our outreach was its mass acceptance during recently concluded Gram Panchayat elections held in Uttar Pradesh,” the CEO highlighted.
The model is currently being implemented in 5-gram panchayats in Uttar Pradesh and is witnessing a steady increase in association requests.
In the village of Malancha of Mahipalpur Gram Panchayat in Balagarh Block of Hoogly, the Model Gaon initiative was briefly initiated. Dr Heera Lal, IAS had paid a visit to the Gaon himself. “The program was started as part of MGNREGA works and ICDS. We would like to execute it further and work on the suggestions proposed by Dr Heera Lal as soon as we get the guidelines for the same,” said Mr Srimanta Dey, BDMO Balagarh.
Sanjib Banerjee who is the Assistant Inspector of Schools presently posted at Barrackpore, North 24 Parganas, had worked closely with Dr Heera Lal in West Bengal. Banerjee said, “We are working on rainwater harvesting by creating farm ponds and natural fertilizers. We are also working on some innovative ideas like promoting the exchange of technical expertise among farmers through Agro Tourism. We have also decided to celebrate Village Foundation Day, a unique concept which offers people brought up in the village and presently residing elsewhere to connect with their roots and also promote indigenous culture in the villages.”
Standing tall amidst the pandemic
The sheer pain people had to go through during the pandemic was heartbreaking. However, once again, the Model villages stood the test of time and were able to endure the health hazard to a large extent.
“All stakeholders realised that there is nothing more important to have an informed and aware society and that villages are pivotal to India’s emergence from the pandemic induced challenges,” the CEO said.
While physical reach was largely restricted, all the villagers were reached through a rural-through-digital. Villagers were made aware of Covid and the significance of vaccination as well.
Decentralized people-centric planning
Any development initiative, be it government or private, has one end objective – people welfare. However, until and unless the mindset of our rural population is progressive and they understand the core philosophy of ‘empowerment’ behind these programs, the effectiveness of any development scheme shall remain subdued.
The objective of Model Gaon is to enable people to become solution-creator and not just solution-seeker. This shift in approach will help to open people’s minds and hence will in turn help all such development schemes exhibit better results.
The idea of the development of Model Gaon is based on people participation. People at the end of the pyramid or the eventual beneficiary should be the co-creator of his/her development plan. The attempt is to reverse-integrate the people chain. The priority agenda should come from them.
Once it is done their insights are integrated with deep research and policymaking capacity going up to administrative levels. The democratic development process helps promote inclusivity in planning and presents a more holistic view of a cluster’s development.
Be a changemaker
For any development initiative to find foot on the ground, a change maker is needed to lead the development initiative. As part of the Model Gaon program such socially inclined people are identified and empower through an online training program. These trained people, map an area of development from the village manifesto and start working there. “This helps build trust in the local community while making the changemaker a respected social leader,” Saurabh Lall explained.
Powerhouse of growth
According to Siddharth S. Singh, Associate Dean-Digital Transformation, e-Learning, and Marketing at Indian School of Business the economic development model that India has followed since independence is focused on cities. As a result, the rural areas have been neglected. To deal with this issue, we need decentralized planning. We need to empower our citizens living in rural areas. “The Model Gaon is a very promising initiative to strengthen our rural segment of citizens from the grassroots level. It can provide economic opportunities to people in their villages and a healthy environment to live in,” he shared.
In the age of digitization as we continue to empower our cities towards smart solutions, we need to adequately empower our villages too. “If initiatives like the model village are strengthened, it may encourage many people to return to their villages and work from there, and reduce the flow of migration towards cities. It is also likely to strengthen the rural economy. New technologies can help rural areas build innovative agri-based businesses and market products,” Siddhart Singh added.
We need to strengthen agriculture and agriculture-based industries. Farmers must be provided training, opportunities, and other support for developing value-added products and services and marketing them at higher prices and profits instead of simply selling their produce. “I feel initiatives like the FPO can go a long way in meeting this goal,” Siddharth Singh mentioned.
With concentrated efforts towards capacity building and creating disruptive value chains, our villages can become the hotspots of economic activity. Therefore, empowered model villages with adequate physical and intellectual ecosystems will be a boon for our nation’s economic growth.
Click on the link below to know more about Dr. Heera Lal, IAS and his innovative ideas: http://makingyouhappy.org/