Updated: Oct 1, 2021
Dhanora, a tiny village in the heartland of Chambal, Rajasthan, once deprived of proper sanitation, roads or potable water, is the state’s first smart village today. Read on to know more about this impressive transformation.
The number of people who have migrated from rural to urban India stood at a whopping 52 million as per the 2001 Census. Some of the main motives behind this are better livelihood, opportunities and facilities.
However, the after effects of this is the increasing burden on resources in urban India. With a view to change this, the Government of India launched the Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission (SPMRM) in 2015. The objective behind it was to spur social, economic and infrastructural development in at least 300 villages and transform them into ‘Smart Villages’. After all, 68 percent of the people in the country still live in rural and remote regions. As per this mission, the defining elements of all Smart Villages are the extensive use of technology and the implementation of interventions in the areas of infrastructure and service delivery. Ensuring access to skills and basic amenities like education, health, and electricity, is an integral part of this.
The success story of Smart Village Dhanora
Rajasthan's first smart village is Dhanora, in the Dholpur district. Dhanora is located in the heartland of Chambal, right in the midst of sandy ravines and sparse vegetation. However, pre-2014, this hamlet was devoid of sanitation, roads, or potable water, and was struggling with issues like encroachment, unemployment and poverty.
But, cut to the present day, there is a complete turnaround, with Dhanora being referred to as a model Smart Village. The roads which were earlier littered with all kinds of waste are presently very tidy and lined with lush trees. In addition to that, the village is fully open defecation free. From solar lights, pucca houses, skill development centres, meditation hubs to a public library, the village has it all.
The entrance gate of Dhanora (Image credit: Abhishek Kumar Meena)
So, how did everything change so suddenly? It definitely wasn’t magic. It was due to the combined tireless efforts of the stakeholders involved and the active participation of the local residents.
Stakeholders behind the transformation
Prem Rawat, a school teacher at a rural school (15 kilometers from Dhanora) is a passionate karyakarta (worker) at the Dhanora Vikas Samiti. He enlists the key stakeholders behind its transformation.
Rawat says, “This transformation has been primarily possible due to the efforts of Dr Satyapal Singh Meena, an IRS officer from the village, and his team.”
Dr Meena helmed the positive change in Dhanora by prioritizing sanitation and the construction of toilets.
“Until 2015, 95 percent of Dhanora’s households did not have toilets. But our efforts bore fruit and it was declared the first village to become open-defecation free by the state government,” he says.
It was not only Dr Meena who rolled up his sleeves, an Aurangabad-based NGO called ‘Eco-Needs Foundation’ provided massive support.
The organisation, led by Dr Priyanand Agale, developed a working model to build a smart village with essential amenities like sanitation, safe drinking water, transportation and so on.
The condition of roads in Dhanora - a before vs after comparison (Image credit: Abhishek Kumar Meena)
Rawat adds, “Eco-Needs Foundation, headed by Dr Agale was actively involved in the infrastructural developments (especially the monitoring, repairing, etc) at Dhanora. All the credit for laying of sewer lines in the sewage treatment plant and improving the road network, goes to this foundation.”
The Sewage treatment plant in Dhanora, laid by the efforts of Eco-Needs Foundation (Image credit: Abhishek Kumar Meena)
The groundwork behind the metamorphosis was done between 2014 to 2016, with a five-step action plan in mind. This included retrofitting (modifying) existing structures and eliminating encroachments, redeveloping infrastructure, implementing greenfield as well as electronic planning, focusing on communication, e-learning and finally providing means of livelihood for the people.
SGBGT (Soch Badlo Gaon Badlo Team), a registered organisation founded by Dr Meena that works for the welfare of villages, has also been an active stakeholder along the journey. Abhishek Kumar, an integral member of this team highlights the initiatives they took up to create public awareness and participation.
Getting into the details of how they made it happen, Abhishek says, “While a major chunk of the initiative was funded by the elected representatives (MPs and MLAs) of Dhanora as well as the Panchayat, local folks also chipped in through crowdfunding. And, we also had donations pour in from other people outside of the village.”
In an earlier interview, Dr Meena said, “My intention is not to convert a village into a city. Instead, I want to uphold the region’s culture while ensuring all the amenities are in place.”
During the nascent stage of the initiative, even womens’ panchayats were organized regularly where significant issues like health, hygiene and specifically open defecation were discussed and debated. This shows the kind of collective effort and collaboration that went into its implementation.
Rawat lauds the active participation of the residents of Dhanora. He says, “The hard work done on-ground - shramdaan (voluntary contribution by the person towards community welfare involving physical effort) was seen from the locals. Abhishek too weighs in this. “After government schemes like Swachh Bharat were implemented in Dhanora, the residents pitched in for most construction activities.
People’s participation in the construction of concrete roads in Dhanora (Image credit: Abhishek Kumar Meena)
Ultimately, the usage of toilets not only led to reduced open-defecation in Dhanora, it bettered the health and wellbeing of the people at large, especially women and children.
Replicating the smart village model
Though the work kicked off from 2014, the project was an ongoing one. “Work is still underway at the meditation centre and the IT hub”, quips Rawat.
Well, replicating the smart-village model involved considerable planning and perseverance. In addition, training and capacity building of Panchayati Raj institutions and rural administrative bodies was crucial.
Awareness programme being carried out at Dhanora (Image credit: Abhishek Kumar Meena)
While Dhanora may be Rajasthan’s first smart village, we hope to see the rise of many more in future.
Edited by Roshni Shroff
Some resources and links to help you learn more about Dhanora and Smart Villages: