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Success Story of Rajendra, whom The Week declared as the Man of the Year (1998)

Postings not related to the writing of the Manifesto or policy chapters
are likely to be summarily rejected. Thanks for your understanding. IPI
I am a Ph.D. in Geology. My main field of interest is research and 
extension work in the land and water resources in the semiarid tracts of 
Rayalaseema and surrounding regions in Andhra Pradesh. After serving as 
a teacher for over 39 years, I retired as a Professor of Geology and the 
Principal of the Sri Venkateswara University College of Arts and Science 
at Tirupati in August 1997. I am presently doing the same work as the 
Chairman of the Rayalaseema Vikas Parishad, a non-profit organization 
based at Tirupati, besides assisting NRI pilgrims to feel homely at 
Tirupati and Tirumala.

Only after coming to the United States on a visit about 5 months' back, 
I could browse the web frequently. Thanks to Vincent Subramaniam, the 
December 1998 newsletter of India Together 
(http://www.indiatogether.org) carried out not only my article on water 
management in Rayalaseema, but also two other items attracting my 
attention. One is the web-based initiative taken up by the India Policy 
Institute (IPI), which attracted the best brains all over the world to 
debate on the various problems crippling India. The other is a reference 
to the article by Vijaya Pushkarna in 'The Week' 
(http://www.the-week.com/98dec27/cover.htm) on the 41-year old Rajendra 
Singh, whom the magazine rightly declared as the Man of the Year for the 
revolution he brought out in water harvesting and other works in 

The long-term goal of the IPI to bring out 'The People's Manifesto' 
through public debate and consensus by 1st January 2000 and make the 
government implement it is highly laudable. But in addition to this, the 
IPI should have a number of short-term goals such as recognition of 
loopholes in certain policies right now practiced by the government, 
rectification of the same through consensus, and initiation of a 
dialogue with the government for their implementation. To this end in 
view, I present below a synopsis of the success story of Rajendra and 
the loopholes in the existing policies of the government, which made him 
to face so many problems for doing good to the people.

Rajendra, son of a zamindar from U.P., holds a degree in Ayurvedic 
Medicine and an M.A. in Hindi. He resigned his lucrative government job, 
deserted his young wife temporarily, sold away all his household 
belongings, and left to a remote village near Alwar with four of his 
friends on 2nd October 1985. As on now he could spread his work in 650 
villages in 7 districts of northeastern Rajasthan, located along the 
foot of the Aravalli Mountains close to the Delhi-Alwar road for a 
distance of about 390-km (To view the map of the study area, click on 
the URL given below).

He took up the whole work under the Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), a 
non-profit organization. He established a number of schools to provide 
functional literacy for both adults and children, and ayurvedic clinics 
with medicines prepared from locally grown herbs to provide medical 
care. He started thrift societies for saving money and lending to the 
needy people at nominal interest. He got the full cooperation of the 
local people to take up construction of thousands of water harvesting 
structures within and outside the forest area to create perennial 
surface water and shallow groundwater bodies. The Christian Agency for 
Social Action (CASA) has initially funded his works under food for work 
program, while certain European agencies later started funding. 

The officials of the Irrigation Department insist that any expenditure 
on the execution and maintenance of any irrigation structure should be 
routed through them by following standard procedures, which involve 
calling for tenders and execution of work by contractors under their 
supervision. As government could not find funds even to renovate defunct 
irrigation structures, most of the engineers had to remain idle for most 
of the time. Rajendra silenced these officials through nonviolent 
agitation. He obtained some funds from funding agencies and motivated 
local people to pool the remaining resources not only to renovate and 
maintain defunct irrigation structures constructed earlier by the 
Irrigation Department, but also to construct and maintain thousands of 
new water-harvesting structures by using cost-effective methods of 
traditional nature. He obtained technical advice whenever needed from 
experts on a voluntary basis. The cost of construction was much lower 
than what it would be had Irrigation Department took up those works. At 
the same time, the quality of work was much better with structures 
getting never breached by floods. As a result, more structures could be 
created in less time with less money. Agricultural returns have 
increased. People could have nutritious food. The locally available work 
was so high that the men who fled the villages for work elsewhere 
returned back. The Irrigation Department, which once threatened to 
demolish the illegal water harvesting structures of TBS now sought the 
help of TBS to obtain a grant of Rs.160-millions from a Swiss agency to 
replicate the TBS efforts elsewhere through People's Action of Watershed 
Development Initiative (PAWDI). 

The Forest and Wildlife Protection Act does not allow for farming or 
construction of water-harvesting structures within the forestland and 
wildlife sanctuaries.  The officials of the Forest Department insist on 
any expenditure for work within the forest to be routed through them. 
Rajendra silenced these officials also through nonviolent agitation. In 
consultation with the villagers, he framed new rules for the protection 
of the fauna and flora in the forests. A number of water-harvesting 
structures were constructed in the forests and villagers forcibly took 
up farming within forest land without tampering the bigger trees. As 
fishing was banned, the perennial water bodies served as bird 
sanctuaries. The increased moisture levels in the soil helped growth of 
enough fodder for the cattle. A recent environmental-impact assessment 
conducted by the government revealed that, although TBS defied law, 
there has been a substantial increase in the flora and fauna.

Rajendra took up a nonviolent agitation to close the local marble mines, 
which made surface water and shallow groundwater to seep deep 
underground, destroyed grazing lands meant for cattle, and acted as 
death traps to wildlife. The mining mafia made three unsuccessful 
attempts on his life. The car in which he was traveling alone was 
smashed. Forty-two cases, including three rape charges, were filed 
against him. Rajendra sought for the legal redress from the Supreme 
Court of India. An all-party legislative committee appointed by the 
court found nothing adverse against him. The Supreme Court finally 
ordered for the closure of mines in a good portion of land to save the 
fragile ecosystem of the Aravallis.

Rajendra's success is in part because of the various government 
departments conceding to his demands and not implementing the rules, 
which are harmful for development. But these rules are being still 
strictly enforced in the rest of India, hindering progress there. Will 
government scrap these obsolete rules all over India on a uniform basis? 
Or should we take up a program to train people to emulate Rajendra?

Jagadiswara Rao

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