KAMBALWADI, this year's winner of the Maharashtra government's Sant Gadge Baba Maharaj Award, used to be a remote village in Kolhapur district. Situated several kilometres off the highway, it would have remained thus had its ambitious residents not decided to spruce up the village and, consequently, their own lives. The State government award is given primarily for maintaining sanitation with the aim of ensuring good health. Kambalwadi went all out to provide hygienic conditions for its residents.
The village won the taluk- and district-level awards before qualifying for the State-level award. After satisfying the basic award criteria, it went on to tackle the problem of alcoholism. Now, not only is Kambalwadi an alcohol-free village, but all addictive substances, including cigarettes, tobacco, gutkha and aerated drinks, are banned there. Even visitors to the village who violate the ban will have to pay a fine of Rs.100. Littering is a thing of the past in Kambalwadi and the residents shun non-biodegradable plastic.
In the village's agricultural fields, sustainable practices have been adopted to conserve water. Turmeric water has replaced chemical pesticide spraying, and crop diversification, which ensures income for the farmers all through the year, is practised. In the homes, biogas and gobar gas provide energy for cooking. Vermiculture, compost pits, medicinal herb gardens and afforestation of the surrounding hills are other highlights of this eco-friendly village.
Extravagant community festivals are not preferred. Instead, the village has adopted a "one gaon (village) one Ganapati" policy for Ganesh Chaturthi. Only one community idol of Ganapati that too made of clay is allowed during the festival. Superstitious myths and tricks of the so-called godmen are dispelled through street theatre. Television watching by children is strictly monitored so that "they can concentrate on their studies". This resulted in Kambalwadi's children achieving a 74 per cent success rate in the Senior Secondary Certificate examinations this year.
The crowning glory of Kambalwadi is the empowerment of women. (In fact, three girls topped the list of successful SSC candidates from the village this year.) The village has a woman sarpanch and it was recently made mandatory to transfer all built-up property to the names of the women in the family. If the house belonged to the woman she would be able to dictate terms, explained sarpanch Bharati Shahji Redekar, adding, "We have their best interests at heart." All members of the village are involved in decision-making. "We tell the panchayat what to do. Not the other way round," said one resident.
A perfect example of direct democracy at work.
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