On a narrow village road, Walk of Hope moved from Shirur and, passing through Gavhanewadi, Motewadi and Wadegavhan, reached Ralegan Siddhi. Crossing hundreds of Varkaris on the way, it stopped only at a Dutt temple and covered a distance of 18 kilometers. It was a very special day as Anna Hazare, the illustrious social activist, walked with them in the last stretch.
Anna Hazare led movements to promote rural development, increase government transparency and push for the investigation of corruption in public life. In addition to organising and encouraging grassroots-level movements, he frequently conducted hunger strikes to further these causes. Anna was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award, by the Government of India in 1992 for his efforts in establishing this village as a model for others.
Ralegan Siddhi, a national showcase for environmental conservation, has carried out programs like tree planting, terracing of hillsides to reduce soil erosion and digging of canals to retain rainwater. A fore-runner in its use of non-conventional energy, the village uses wind power, biogas and solar power through a project heralded as a sustainable model of a village republic.
In 1975, the village was afflicted by drought, poverty prevailed, and trade in illicit liquor was widespread. The village tank was unable to hold water as the embankment dam wall leaked. Beginning with the percolation tank construction, Hazare encouraged the villagers to donate their labour and repair the embankment. Once fixed, that summer the seven wells below filled with water for the first time in memory!
The village now has water year round as well as a grain bank, a milk bank, and a school, transforming Ralegan Siddhi from an extremely poor, highly degraded village ecosystem in a semi-arid area to one of the richest in the country. A model for everyone, their 25 year old example demonstrates that it is possible to rebuild natural capital in partnership with the local economy. The village, described in the 60’s as “one of the many villages of India plagued by acute poverty, deprivation, a fragile ecosystem, neglect and hopelessness”, has turned around!
Anna Hazare joined and walked with the yatris for awhile until they reached Ralegan Siddhi just before noon. After lunch, they visited the Swami Samarth Mutt and toured the village to view the transformation wrought by the villagers. After this, Anna Hazare addressed the padayatris and interacted with them.