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Punjab: Transforming villages with WhatsApp, NRIs

What government failed to do in decades, villagers have done in months — getting sewerage lines laid — with funds contributed by people settled abroad and with tech expertise of Baba Seechewal and his team

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | Updated: July 7, 2019 10:54:13 am
Punjab news, punjab WhatsApp groups, sewage lines laid in Punjab, NRIs in Punjab, punjabi nris, punjab news Baba Seechewal and his team at work laying a sewage line in Bhandal Dona village.

A WhatsApp group, some locals settled abroad, an environment activist and his team, and a will to change things for the better has seen several villages in Punjab carry out works that, in an ideal situation, should have been done by the government.

At least 66 villages in half a dozen districts of Punjab have got the sewerage lines laid on their own. Another 27 villages plan to do it in near future.

This ‘silent revolution’ has its genesis in Bal Kohna, a village in Nakodar area of Jalandhar district. Several years ago, the state government launched a project to lay the sewerage line at the village but left the work midway. The incomplete line compounded the problem of sewerage with waste water from households turning the village into an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. The stench too was unbearable.

Several representations to the local administration and government officials failed to yield any result. It was then that a villager, Paramjit Singh, hit upon an idea.

“I created a group in the name of our village on WhatsApp in August last year and added all the NRIs from our village in it. I shared pictures of villages where sewer system was being installed on the lines of ‘Seechewal Village Model’ and urged the NRIs to contribute for the development of their native village,” says Paramjit Singh.

Soon several NRIs came forward with offers of help. “A village development committee was set up to accept the contributions – all through cheques. The village got a proper sewer system in four months,” adds Paramjit.

The villagers spent a total of Rs 50 lakh on laying the sewer lines and setting up a treatment plant. The waste water treated by the plant now irrigates 13-14 acre land. A three-member committee, including president Mahinder Singh, secretary Balbir Singh and treasurer Hari Singh, ensure that no glitches occur in the sewer line or at the treatment plant.

A similar story is shared by Joga Singh, president of village development committee, Haripur. Jog Singh was in regular in touch with several villagers who had settled abroad. “We kept in touch on social media, mainly WhatsApp, and I used to share stories of development work being carried out in other villages. They said we can do something similar in our village and contributed liberally. Now we have a sewer system, concrete streets, and a park in our village, which is also one of the cleanest in the area,” says Joga Singh.

Sukhwinder Singh Neki of Sidhwan Doana, which also got a sewerage system laid a couple of years ago, said that for decades they keepwaiting for the government to install the system. Tired of false assurances, they pooled in some money, sought help from the NRIs, again through WhatsApp, and got the sewerage system laid in a few months. Environment activist Padma Shri environmentalist Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal and his team also pitched in.

“We cannot rely on government for such works. The government takes years and decades to complete such work, while we got it completed in a few months,” says Amrik Singh of Talwandi Madho village.

Going a step ahead, Bhandhal Dona village in Kapurthala, got its sewer line laid in just one day in February 2016. Tow hundred houses were connected with the main sewer line of the village. The money mostly came from NRIs, including village resident Paraminder Singh who is now settled in Canada and who donated Rs 50 lakh. “A team of 250 men, five JCB machines, five tractors led by Baba Seechewal activist and his team reached here early in the morning and got the work done by the evening,” remembers Hardeep Singh, the village sarpanch.

All these villages did not go to government departments or any sewer contractors. They got it laid with the help of Baba Seechewal.

“When we start work of laying sewer in any village, we first conduct a survey and then start digging in a manner so that when the pipes are laid, the water flows straight to the exit point,” said Sukhjit Singh, a senior member of Baba Seechewal’s team. Baba Seechewal, Sukjit Singh said, doesn’t have a battery of engineers on his beck and call and instead works with the experience he has gained over the years. “He had laid a brick-line sewer in his village Seechewal some twenty years ago. The system is working great even today”.

“Now we are laying sewer with cement pipes of one to two feet diameter,” said Gurwinder Singh, another member of Baba’s team.

Baba Seechewal, meanwhile, says his only aim is to keep the environment clean and for that he has been laying sewer in the villages for the past two decades. “But most of the work has been done in past few years. It is because people want to have a hygienic life and open drains and dirty ponds are the source of several diseases,” says Seechewal, adding that it was a “no profit, no loss” system and “we don’t charge for labour done by our team if where is paucity of funds in any village”.

Baba Seechewal had cleaned 165-km long Kali Bein (now Holy Bein), a rivulet of river Beas, with a handful of his supporters without any government help. Former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam had mentioned the Kali Bein project in at least 2,000 of his public speeches in India and Abroad.

Baba has created three teams comprising 70-80 activists each who have been doing the labour work and have their own JCBs and tractors, contributed by the NRIs and environment activists.

Apart from 66 villages of Punjab, 10 in Haryana, and one in UP has adopted the model. One such model can be seen in Sultanpur Lodhi

town where it irrigates 750 acres of land through a 13-km long pipe line. Punjab government too got the model implemented in 45 villages situated along the Kali Bein under ‘Holy Bein Project’.

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