It was a unique ceremony for a unique award given to a unique rural community of India. In what is perhaps the first ceremony of its kind, President K R Narayanan flew to Hamirpura, a village in Alwar district, to felicitate the village of Bhaonta-Kolyala. The award, instituted by Down To Earth and funded by the Joseph C John Trust, is aimed at scrutinising community efforts and selecting the “outstanding one”. The ceremony — held on March 28, 2000 — saw villagers coming to Hamirpura in droves from the nooks and corners of the district. It was attend by Rajasthan governor Anshuman Singh, chief minister Ashok Gehlot and a host of dignitaries, too.
A translation of select portions of President K R Narayanan’s speech after presenting the award
I am truly delighted to be present here among all of you in Hamirpura for the presentation of the Down To Earth-Joseph C John Award. Very seldom is there an opportunity to address a village ceremony. I was born in a Kerala village and I spent the first 20 years of my life in the village. I contested my parliamentary election from a rural constituency. I have managed to sustain my link with the villages of India. The people living in our innumerable villages are the true heroes of India — the adhinayak of the Jan-Gan-Man of our motherland, as men- tioned in our national anthem.
The people of Bhaonta-Kolyala have shown how development is possible without harming the environment. The extraordinary effort of this village in Rajasthan can be compared to the achievement of King Bhagirath, who, according to Hindu legend, brought the Ganga to Earth.
Water is the basis of all life. It is becoming a main problem confronting one and all across the world — for the rich and industralised countries as well as the poor and developing countries. In earlier days, the people of Bhaonta-Kolyala had seen the water drying up. People had to migrate to cities to search for a livelihood because agriculture had been ruined due to water scarcity. In such a situation, Rajendra Singh and the Tarun Bharat Sangh showed the way. Actually, it was a village elder who had asked them to “stop talking and start building johads”.
The johads and check-dams built by the villages here recharged the groundwater and the surplus water emerged in the form of river. The song Sare Jahan Se Achchha, written by Iqbal, mentions “Godi mein khelati hain jiski hazaaron nadiyaan ……” (thousands of rivers play in the lap of our country). The most significant aspect of Bhaonta-Kolyala’s effort is that they remembered the water needs of villages downstream, which has prevented water disputes here. It is important to remember that 75 per cent of the cost of building water harvesting structures was borne by the people of this village.
I would like to congratulate the people of this village. Their initiative and self-reliance is an example and an inspiration to the rest of rural India. This work will provide direction to the entire country. Not only have the people revived the river, they have also established demo- cratic institutions to sustainably manage it. The gram sabha and the Arvari River Parliament are shining example of this. I hope that the people of Bhaonta-Kolyala will continue the good work that they have done.
While it is the responsibility of the government to create a situation where people can develop, it is up to the people themselves to work for the development of true gram swaraj (village republic). Bhaonta-Kolyala and its surrounding villages have shown how people can do this on their own,” said President Narayanan, after presenting the award.
The President presented the first Down To Earth-Joseph C John Award for the most outstanding environmental com- munity to Bhaonta-Kolyala. The award — which carries a citation and a cash award of Rs 1,00,000 — was received by seven villagers, including two women, on behalf of the Bhaonta- Kolyala community.