A silent ecological and economical transformation is slowly taking place in more than 14,000 villages in Maharashtra.
This is because of the ambitious eco-village scheme, which was floated by the rural development department in 2010.
The scheme not only involves planting trees, installing solar streetlights, creating zero-plastic zones and making villages open defecation-free, but also leads to economic prosperity.
In 2010-11, the state government recovered Rs. 433 crore through rural tax collections, which is more than 65% of the total expected Rs. 684 crore.
This amount is also 40% more than the previous year’s tax collections, state officials said.
“The scheme is unique especially because according to the village population, there are targets set for three years and funds are given to develop the villages according to these targets,” explained Sudhir Thakre, secretary, rural development.
In the first year, a village is required to plant one tree per person, make the place 60% open defecation-free, ban plastic bags thicker than 50 microns and collect 60% of water and property taxes.
The village is then required to increase the targets to get the funds for the next year.
In the third and last year, the village is required to meet higher targets, such as collect 90% tax and make the place 100% open defecation-free, install compact fluorescent lamps or light-emitting diode lamps on streets and manage solid waste and liquid waste scientifically.
Funds are allocated to the villages according to the population. So, a village with a population of up to 1,000 will get Rs. 2 lakh per year, villages with 1,001 to 2,000 residents will get Rs. 3 lakh per year and so on. Villages with a population of more than 10,000 are allocated Rs. 12 lakh per year.
But what has really given a thrust to the scheme, according to Thakre, is rural development minister Jayant Patil's personal interest.
Patil has been holding sabhas in various districts across Maharashtra and addressing the beneficiaries directly.
Till date, he has held more than 56 sabhas, with villagers from 28 to 30 villages attending each programme, and has another 60 such sabhas to go.
“This has never happened before. The government administrative machinery has always been active but when a minister jumps on to the bandwagon, the villagers feel good - the benefit of which we are reaping now,” said Thakre.