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Thoughts While Hiking

July 3, 2011

By Tejashree Thatte

What a wonderful day it was! Amused by the greenery and pleased by the monsoon showers, we were walking through the dense forest towards Raajmaachi. The sky was blue and just in a moment’s time was turning black to warn us about the upcoming heavy rains.

We hiked up almost 22 kms and the feet were soaring and the blisters were painful. The village was nowhere nearby. We walked till the beautiful waterfall and our souls were in ecstasy at the sight of it. The enormous amount of water was cascading from some 100 feet and the strong wind coming up the valley was bringing the droplets to us – on the other side of the valley.

Photo 1: the two hills: Manoranjan and Shriwardan between which the village Raajmachi is situated

Photo 1: the two hills: Manoranjan and Shriwardan between which the village Raajmachi is situated

We reached the village after four and a half hours of hike.

The village is inhabited by more or less 185 people residing in 20-25 houses. The village is marked in the district of Pune. The inhabitants of the village belong to the tribe called Mahadeo Koli. This is one of the most populous tribes of Maharashtra[1].The village Raajmaachi is sitting between the two high rising hills of Manoranjan and Shriwardhan.

Raajmaachi is the tourist hotspot especially for the weekends. The reason is its vicinity from the two metropolises of Pune and Mumbai. Hence the flow of tourists and basically hikers is very heavy. The economy of the village is mostly dependent on these trekkers and tourists. The villagers offer the rooms in their houses for the tourists to stay on night basis. Also, they cook food for them. The food is good and the rates are extremely reasonable. But, their income from this business is meager.

Raajmaachi Vikaas Yojnaa (Raajmaachi Development Trust) since 1976 has helped the village in every possible way with medicines, old clothes, books etc. But after a certain extent, this help now has started receding. The villagers are sans a Grampanchayat head for last fifteen years. While talking to them, it was clear that, they need a village head who can facilitate some development. The village has won an award of 50,000 Rupees for being the cleanest village compared to the other nearby villages and hamlets in Graam Swatcchata Abhiyaan (a call for cleaning the village). Also they have won a prize of 1 million Rupees in Mahatma Gandhi Taanta Mukti Abhiyaan (a call to end the grievances). But this has done nothing great to help the village to secure the basic infrastructure in order to develop.

Today we are arguing vigorously for thrusting on human development, but these villagers are lacking the infrastructural development. And infrastructure, according to me is a stepping stone for attaining human development.

There is no proper road to the village from the town of Lonavala. Hence commuting is the biggest problem of this area. Anything needed by the people in the village is only available in the town of Lonavala which is at least at 4 hours of walking. One needs to hike up around 22 kms on foot from a forest where wild animals are plenty in number. Although Leopards do not voluntarily attack on human beings, the threat remains. The trail is a mud way and hence during the monsoons; it becomes very difficult to cross the huge patches of mud and marsh. Besides, some tourists, who do not want to hike, come to visit the village in Gypsy vans. The tires of these cars get stuck in the marsh and make the situation even worse. The available narrow muddy trail becomes even worse due to the heavy cars with huge tyres.

Photo 2: a muddy patch on the trail

Photo 2: a muddy patch on the trail

The villagers complain about the difficulty that they face in walking up these mud patches. This is a way in which the tourists, who actually are the source of income for the villagers, become an issue of worry for them.

Electricity

Sonar panels fixed up on the roofs of the houses

Sonar panels fixed up on the roofs of the houses

Electricity is one of the biggest problems with this village. It is one of the basic necessity and the people in the village are deprived of it. The main reason behind this is the strategy of the forest department. They want to declare this area as a wildlife sanctuary and hence are banning any electricity poles and wires. But they are not considering the gravity of the problems faced by people of small villages like Raajmaachi which fall inside the circumference of this ‘wildlife sanctuary’. These people, in spite of living so close to the big cities like Mumbai and Pune, are deprived of the basic necessities like electricity. In 2005, the government came up with an idea that, the villagers will invest 25% and the government will pay 75% of the total expenditure needed for the installments of the solar panels to provide the village with the electricity. The villagers of course could not afford the expense of around 10 million rupees (the government was ready to pay 40 million rupees) for the same. Hence, the TATA Company paid the village’s share. The solar panels were installed and the village was lit up with the small light bulbs. The batteries required in the solar panels were of the low quality and so, eventually, they died – earlier than the estimated time limit. There was no procurement in the government’s plan for the maintenance of the solar panels and the batteries. The village could enjoy the electricity only for barely 3 – 4 years. Till date, the solar panels are lying up on the rooftops, producing no electricity due to low quality of batteries and no maintenance.

During hot summers, the water level in the natural springs, wells and the ponds in the hills go low and women can no more fetch water from these resources. With the help of the electricity, electric pumps could have been set up on the wells and ponds to fetch the deep water. Electricity would have solved the grave drinking water problem during the summer in this area.

The villagers hence have set up a diesel pump on the fresh water pond nearby the village. But the expenses needed to buy the diesel come from the villagers’ pockets. In other words, they are paying from their own pockets for those services which are in fact the responsibility of the government.

Health

The village does not have a primary medical centre, let alone a hospital. There is no visiting doctor, or any other health facilities. The villagers’ lives are always at stake when they walk up to the town through the forest. They might bitten by a snake or an insect, might get injured by falling or twisting the ankles… I mean, they are prone to such innumerable risks. The pregnant women often deliver babies while in their journey from the village to the town in a cloth stretcher carried by four men. If they need any medical help or if a medical emergency arrives, then there is nobody to call for. The baby and the mother both are at risk.

Due to unavailability of any medical facilities, the vaccination of the children in the village is very irregular or absent in some cases. Every time, the child needs to be carried to the town and brought back which is quite tedious.

Most of the houses in the village do not have toilets. They use the open grasslands for the same. This is extremely inconvenient for the women in the village, when they need to answer nature’s calls during the day time. This leads to many health problems in the community.

 Education

The government runs a school in the village where some 20 pupils learn and reside. They come from the nearby tribal hamlets and hence can’t go to and fro school and their house every day. But this school is only till 4th grade which is forcing the parents to send their children away from the village for the further studies. The villagers were complaining about their village getting empty due to heavy out migration. 

Caste Certificates

These people belong to the tribe of Mahadeo Koli as I mentioned earlier. But they haven’t got the certificate of caste. In India, some of the tribes which are scheduled by the government can avail benefit of reservation in education, employment etc. These villagers of Raajmaachi, because of negligence of the local authorities, haven’t got the certificates yet, keeping them away from the reservation benefits. 

The other strategies of the forest department

Photo 4: a farmer with bulls, making his farm ready for sowing

Photo 4: a farmer with bulls, making his farm ready for sowing

The forest department is acting funny, and not allowing the villagers to grow any crops, in other words any kind of farming is banned. The logic behind this is to save the jungle from the people who clear the lands to use it for farming by cutting down the trees. The staple food for the poor villagers is not wheat and rice but grains like Ragi.  They grow it only for their subsistence, but still it goes against the forest department’s strategies.

  

  Other thoughts

Raajmaachi, as described above is facing numerous problems with the basic infrastructure. This is obviously not the only village in the district or state or the country with the serious situation. When will the condition of the villages improve? How many more years it will take ‘Bharat’[2] to shine as ‘India’ is shining now? When will the villagers no more face the dire consequences of lack of infrastructure, communication and development?

A very interesting observation I made when I was in Raajmaachi. A city dwelling family came in a Gypsy van to the village. The parents very keenly wanted their children to ‘experience’ the village and witness the ‘real village life’. That struck my mind. I thought, for how many more years will we showcase an Indian village as a poor community, deprived of all modern amenities, with malnutritioned children and plough carrying farmers? I mean, we certainly need to graduate faster from this idea and adapt the British planning for their ‘country sides’. They can be the agricultural hubs but using technology, growing more than enough foods and trading the surplus for money. They should be able to buy enough food for their kids, give them ample opportunities of education and make them able citizens. The ‘Bharat’ can’t be excluded from the development of ‘India’.


[1] Maharashtra: A western state in India

[2] Bharat is the Sanskrit name of India. These days, ‘India’ is considered to be consisting of those people who are in third sector, residing in cities and getting the actual benefits of economic development of the country. On the other hand, ‘Bharat’ consists of those who are illiterate, work in farms, dwell in rural India.

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