Professor Priyanand Agale has that rare spark which is missing in many others in his position. He disrupts the status quo and replaces it with dynamism.
The Aurangabad-based professor has implemented a model of sustainable development in Dhanora that can and should be replicated to transform villages all over India.
Agale claimed that Dhanora was the first “smart village” in India. The smart professor first attempted to turn his own village, Parsoda in Vaijapur tehsil of Aurangabad district in Maharashtra, into a smart village.
But even a smart professor can only go thus far and no further. He lacked resources. Ergo, ‘smart’ was still nowhere on the horizon for Parsoda.
Then came an ‘Environment Day’ and Agale invited Dr Sataypal Singh Meena, then Income Tax Commissioner of Aurangabad, to Parsoda. While in the village, Meena saw Agale’s work and was impressed by the man and his ideas.
He requested Prof. Agale to transform his village Dhanora in Rajasthan, promising every support needed.
So, when asked to transform Dhanora, it was like a dream come true. Dhanora, 30 km from Dholpur and 248 km from Jaipur, had a population of 1800. And its problems mirrored those facing Parsoda.
Agale’s NGO Eco Needs foundation took the decision to turn Dhanora into a smart village by first providing the basic facilities required to develop the overall development of the human being.
Agale visited Dhanora with Meena in 2012 and got an idea of the task ahead. Then he sat down to draw up a blueprint which took two years. Actual work started in 2014. To begin with, he called a Gram Sabha and introduced his plan.
Eco Needs Foundation had developed the concept of smart village based on five paths: Redevelopment, Retrofitting, e-Pan, Greenfield and Livelihood.
Redevelopment involved changing the entire layout of the village and the existing built-up environment with new layouts and infrastructure.
Retrofitting included improving the aesthetics of the existing built-up environment like adding colour to structures and making modifications in the elevation of buildings.
Greenfield called for following sustainable development practices while e-Pan envisaged application of select smart solutions to improve existing infrastructure and use of technology, information and data to improve infrastructure and services.
Livelihood activity was aimed at improving living standards by creating employment opportunities.
"It was necessary to follow the paths. But it was not an easy job. But we succeeded in winning the hearts of the Dhanora villagers,” says Manisha Jadhav-Agale, president of Eco Needs Foundation.
The resistance and cooperation during the transformation was in full display as Agale set forth to change the village.
The best was when the villagers without a murmur relocated the 300-year-old Bhumia Baba Temple on their own.
Part of the transformation included the construction of 822 toilets that helped make Dhanora ODF.
And Dhanora also became India’s first village with a modern sewerage line and a sewage treatment plant. The 450mm diameter sewerage line was laid 14 feet deep in the ground. Each of the 822 toilets was connected to the line.
A two-and-a-half kilometer long artificial channel for water conservation was constructed. Ground water recharge capacity of 97.49 million liters in a one-time recharge was another of the milestones reached.
With an average of four times recharging per year, a recharge capacity of 400 million liters was ensured. Construction of eight percolations tanks and compartment-bunding helped the village to become water-sufficient.
The village has become self-sufficient in water. People are opting for year-round farming. Alcohol and tobacco addiction has reduced. Living standards have improved. Incomes have risen. Children are being sent to good schools and colleges.
The district police conducted a survey and may declare Dhanora “Aparadh Mukta Gaon” (Crime Free Village) as not a single criminal incident has been reported in the village for two years.
As for aesthetics, the village today looks cheery, like an art gallery. Aurangabad artists Vikas Sarvade and Sanjay Jagtap painted many of the houses’ walls with social messages.
And Eco Foundation launched the “Soch Badlo Gaon Badlo Abhiyan” which is credited to have changed the fate and face of Dhanora.