When we think of an Indian village, the first thing that comes into our mind is lack of development. We visualize mud houses, narrow and dirty streets, open drains, shortage of both drinking water and electricity. However, a lot of this depends on the head of the village called sarpanch. In Gujarat’s Punsari village, a young sarpanch named Himanshu Narendrabhai Patel has presented his village as a role model for over seven lakh villages in India.
Today, people from different parts of India and across the globe come to this village to study its development model. This village, around 100 km away from Ahmedabad, has all the modern amenities and facilities that are only available in bigger cities in India.
Himanshu deserves all the credit for changing the picture of Punsari village and making it famous globally. Until 2006, Punsari was just like any other village, devoid of all modern facilities. But Himanshu changed the scenario completely with his hard work and passion. Today, the village has modern facilities such as close circuit camera, water purifying plant, air-conditioned school, Wi-Fi facilities, and biometric system for marking attendance. The village has a population of around 6,000 people.
It was at the young age of 22 that Himanshu became the sarpanch, in 2006. Back then, the village lacked basic infrastructure like water, electricity, and concrete roads. Losing all hopes, many families had migrated to cities in want for a better life. The families that did leave the village were in an abysmal state with 328 families living below the poverty line.
The state of the village was in shambles. The panchayat fund was at a minus of Rs 1.2 lakh. Harmony went for a toss very frequently as fights broke out among people from 23 different communities living in the village. Every month, a dozen cases were filled by the villagers against themselves. Almost 98 percent of the village population was illiterate.
They were either engaged in farming agricultural lands, or milk production. They were living a miserable life. When Himanshu took over as sarpanch, he started to use the panchayat funds in correct manner. This made a huge difference and soon the Rs 1.2 lakh loan on the panchayat fund was nullified. You will be surprised to know that it took only eight years, and mere Rs 16 crore to transform this remote, under-developed village into a model village with all modern facilities.
Himanshu was born in Punsari village and completed his schooling from the village itself. Then, his family shifted to a nearby city for his further studies. When they came back to the village during vacation, they realized the huge contrast between city and village lifestyle. Himanshu did some extensive research on government development schemes and financial assistance for the villages during his student days. After completing his studies, he returned to his village, contested election, and became it’s youngest sarpanch. He, however, had to face many obstacles in the beginning. People from an oppressed caste criticized all his plans and opposed all his efforts. So, before everything, Himanshu had to first work hard to win their confidence. He understood the needs of the village and for the first three years, he only focused on building basic infrastructure.
He applied for several government schemes strategically and soon electricity reached the village within the first two years of his tenure. Clean water was made accessible and brick houses, toilets were built. Today, this model village not just has the basic amenities but all modern facilities available in the cities.
In 2009, a total of 14 waterproof speakers were added to the panchayat office for announcing government and social programs. This strengthened communication between villagers and panchayat. Himanshu added this feature to his mobile to remain connected to the village even when he was away.
Himanshu made it possible for all families in the village to have electricity. Even the streets are illuminated. Now, garbage vans collect waste and send it to power generation plant. Himanshu has groomed three boys from the village to run an RO mineral water plant in the village installed under public private partnership.
Since 2010, the villagers are getting 20 liters of mineral water for just Rs 5. The village is equipped with Wi-Fi facility and the villagers can avail the service by depositing only Rs 50 per month in the panchayat office for an amazing 30 Mbps speed. All schools and government offices have CCTV cameras and the footage can be viewed from anywhere through a mobile app.
So far, many people and organizations from India and abroad have visited the village to study the development model of Punsari village. In November 2011, it received the Best Gram Panchayat award from Narendra Modi, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat. Himanshu had also represented India to address the village extension project at the BRICS conference.
Till date, representatives from 37 countries have visited the village. Himanshu also visited 900 villages in 14 states of the country to give his inputs on reviving those underdeveloped villages and make them similar to Punsari. He has delivered talks in more than 90 colleges on how to convert a remote under-developed village into an ideal village.
Mahatma Gandhi was absolutely correct in saying that India’s soul resides in its villages. The true development of any country will happen only when its villages are developed. The residents of Punsari village, who once left it, are now coming back. Nearly 20 families that had gone to Mumbai have returned to their village. Himanshu Narendrabhai Patel’s love and passion for his motherland has not only changed the village’s state but also brings an inspiration to the young generation.
He has showed us how one can migrate to cities for better education and then use it to educate others and contribute to the development of his/her own village and save its future. There are many opportunities for development in villages; all it takes is an honest effort and conscientious youth power.
Poverty, illiteracy, lack of agricultural infrastructure and poor health system are common in most villages in India. But in the true sense, the development of India is only possible when we tend to and nurture our villages.