Cans of elixir

Vidarbha’s ‘suicide’ village shuns liquor,returns from the brink with milk scheme

Written by Vivek Deshpande | Published:February 8, 2009 11:15 am

Vidarbha’s ‘suicide’ village shuns liquor,returns from the brink with milk scheme
ONE of the first sounds in Bothbodan village is the clink of milk cans on cycles early in the morning. These are villagers cycling to the district headquarters of Yavatmal in Maharashtra.
“That’s a good way to begin our mornings,” says former sarpanch Anup Chavan,as he does some number crunching to explain how the private dairies in Yavatmal pay better than the government ones.

But not so long ago,Bothbodan had some other numbers to worry about. Thirteen people had killed themselves in five years—a record for any Vidarbha village—due to mounting debts and a crippling addiction to liquor. Almost every house used to brew liquor but now,the village is slowly finding its feet,thanks to a dairy scheme that the government started in 2005.

Now,nearly 90 of 300 households milk the benefits of this scheme and the village produces 700 litres of milk. The suicide graph has gone down from six in 2005 to just one in 2008.

The turnaround began in 2005 when the members of the Banjara community and many other backward castes of the village,sat with then sarpanch Anup Chavan to discuss how to rid the village of its addiction.

“The elders,youths and members of women’s self-help groups unanimously decided to shun liquor,” says Chavan,who moderated discussions between high-profile visitors—since Bothbodan was in the suicide belt,it attracted a fair share of visitors—and villagers. From 2006,the village,barely 10 km from Yavatmal,got pumps,pipes and,of course,milch cattle,as part of several Central and state programmes.

“Banks had blacklisted us. But after several rounds of talks,during which we promised to keep their trust,the impasse was broken. Canara Bank adopted the village,the villagers took the lead and the government responded,” says Chavan. “We realised that it’s only a matter of taking the lead and the government schemes are all yours.”

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited the village in July 2008 but by then,the village was already on the path to recovery. Around 90-odd people had benefited from the milch cattle scheme.
Then Collector Harshadeep Kamble took keen interest in the scheme and helped about 42 families with bank loans. His successor Sanjay Deshmukh followed suit and the number rose to over 90.

Twenty of the beneficiaries belong to two self-help groups—Om Shetkari Swayam Sahayata Bachat Gat and Jai Samka Mata Shetkari Bachat Gat—while four of them are from suicide-affected households. Of the 100-odd families below poverty line,30 have benefited from the milch cattle scheme so far.

Namdeo Jadhav,who owns three acres of cotton farm,was in deep trouble till he got a buffalo and a cow in June 2007. With farming,his debts kept mounting but the milk business earns him at least Rs 1,000 a month. Narayan Rathod owns 10 acres but it is his cattle business that is helping him get out of his debts.

In 2007,Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living (AOL) chose Bothbodan for its counselling and ‘constructive farm’ programmes. Sri Sri himself visited the village in October 2007 to a rousing reception and,as villagers say,infused a lot of positive energy. Today,his portrait hangs from walls in every household.

But Chavan says the AOL volunteers left the village in just four months. “They dug 70-odd farm ponds and spoke to us about the need to be positive. But they have stopped coming,” he says.

AOL state co-ordinator Ramesh Raman says,“After the government’s loan-waiver,not many private donors are coming forward to fund our farm projects in Vidarbha. And the state government too hasn’t approached us for an extension of our programmes.”

But Rahul Gandhi’s visit,Chavan says,helped government files on Vidarbha move faster than before. “Especially the ones related to the allotment of land pattas,” he says.

But villagers say at least 100 more of them should be part of the scheme. “We will be glad to give it to anyone who wants it and is eligible under the norms,” says Collector Deshmukh. “Bothbodan is among many villages in Yavatmal which have benefited from this scheme,” he says.

The criticism
Critics says the milk scheme hasn’t significantly pushed up the district’s overall milk production. So what is the celebration about?
Deshmukh says,“We have so far distributed 4,500 cattle in the district,which already had about 3 lakh cattle.

“Forty per cent of them—1.20 lakh cows—are milk-producing. One has to look at the success of the scheme from the individual’s point of view rather than looking at the overall increase in production. As the beneficiary numbers grow,the production will also increase. It will take about five years to boost overall production.”

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