Saboo, the Model Village

Dr. Mohinder Kumar
Saboo is so-called “Model Village”, declared as such by the district administration. It is located in Leh block and situated at a distance of 10 km from Leh city. A huge entry gate inscribed with “Model Village” and a signboard of “Nirmal Gram Puraskar” under “Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan” welcomes visitors to this village. Saboo village and its infrastructures were totally devastated by fury of flashflood and cloudburst during dark night of 5-6 August 2010. Pucca nallahs, farm land, crops, trees, houses -everything was flooded and washed away within few hours on that calamitous mid-night.


Village Weekly

Sarpanch of Saboo village is a Graduate and a retired officer in district administration. After floods, Saboo needed local planner and administrator to take village ably out of throes of destruction and devastation within shortest possible time. Saboo achieved this goal to a fair extent. This is a big village. Rigorous efforts are required in re-building and reconstructing village infrastructure including restoration of bunds, pucca nallahs, roads, three bridges, land development, drinking water storage tanks, etc. and of course, compensation for livestock, private houses, private agricultural land, etc. which had been washed away along with fruit trees, other trees and standing crops.
Sarpanch is a good coordinator and helper. Total 35 Kisan Credit Cards (KCCs) were prepared for farmers with his active help and efforts in coordination with banks, BDO, Patwari, etc. Villagers are in favor of devolution of full financial powers/ funds directly to Gram Panchayat for these reasons: (a) speedy development may take place; (b) there would be no diversion from intended objectives and 100% utilization would be ensured; (c) Gram Sabha was involved in all projects to take their opinions, which indicated decentralized participation of all; (d) Gram Panchayat would be in-charge of funds instead of Sarpanch alone tending to act with unilateral discretion and impose decision without listening to villagers/ Gram Sabha;  (e) villagers would be able to exert reversed pressure on upper political class due to financial freedom and bargaining power; and (f) there would be no political or administrative pressure from above (e.g. Departments) on the executing agencies and villagers, which would make it possible to plan, execute and complete works within timeframe in really decentralized manner. Ground-level politics and decision-making without economics and financial power moving hand-in-hand is blunt.
Saboo village has 500 youth, of which 15 are post-graduates and all are educated and “employable” in government service as presumed by the villagers. However, their avenues of employment hitherto are taxi driver, taxi operator, government department/ army service (which has absorbed 50 youth), small trade, and small shop/ businesses. Some of them are absorbed on family-farm as they cultivate wheat, cereals, potato, vegetables, etc. Only 10% of these farm-based youth are termed by villagers as really “unemployed”/ idlers/ jobless since almost all of them are absorbed in one or the other gainful economic activity. So, survival is not a question even as these youth are self-dependent and self-employed though unorganized.
There is one Cooperative Marketing Society at Leh covering entire block and all villages including Saboo as member-village. Members of the marketing society are drawn from each village (one or two persons). Marketing Society does not have storage and godown facility. It supplies goods to the army on daily-basis. Footpath vendors and other shopkeepers of Leh town also purchase goods from this cooperative society.
In 2006-07, Saboo Model Village was selected to adopt ‘Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan’ (PMRP). Economic activity selected for the plan was food-processing unit. An amount of Rs.1.20 crore was sanctioned for installation of these facilities: (a) erecting main entry gate to village Saboo; (b) public information system (computers, etc.); (c) common facility center (CFC) for small processing units; and (d) playground, public-park, etc. Small ‘feeder processing units’ were envisaged to cover vegetables, tomato, and apple for juice making. The ‘main processing unit’ was planned at Leh city, which would be tied up with small ‘village-based processing units’, which may be household-based.  Building (hall) with sheds have been constructed and machinery arranged. Executive agency of the project is Rural Development Department (RDD). Machinery was procured by Horticulture Department in 2011. Expenditure incurred for investment was Rs.14 lakh (approximately 10% of proposed cost) till 2013, with details as under: Rs.5 lakh invested on purchase of machinery and Rs.9 lakh on construction of building. Sarpanch and villagers were very keen to see this processing unit project implemented and launched within 2013. Ownership of project (processing unit) was vested in State Government. Management of project (processing unit) was proposed to be with independent eight Self Help Groups (SHGs) engaged in agriculture activity.
Horticulture Department is already operating a juice manufacturing center at Leh city for apple and tomato. This unit has attained full capacity utilization. Therefore, Department is not in a position to buy all quantity of vegetables, tomato, fruits (apple), etc. arriving at Leh for juice manufacturing/ making tomato ketchup. Surplus produce which cannot be sold or processed at Leh is going waste, which appears to be a disquieting fact, considering the conditions of production in Laddakh region. The arrangement in the proposed project is such that small village household units prepare raw pulp or ketchup and feed main processing unit of State Government, managed by SHGs, which shall manufacture juice for these small units on payment/cost basis.
Roads and bridges were constructed, repaired or restored in the village after flashfloods. There existed one veterinary center. Veterinary assistant could be called by Sarpanch any time as per urgency of villagers. After allocation of 14 Departments to Sarpanch/ Gram Panchayat for supervision and monitoring, Patwari (Village Record Keeper) is reported to be functioning as sincere assistant of Sarpanch since now he visits village each year regularly for “girdavri” (inspection of crops, types, condition, yield, etc.).
However, implementation of MNREGA in Saboo village is not properly efficient as per the view of Sarpanch. Mainly the projects on de-silting, land leveling and other land development works are being taken up due to the damaged caused by flashfloods. Reserve water tanks and roads are also being constructed under MNREGA.
Basic amenities in Saboo are more or less satisfactory. Streetlanes are pucca now after restoration of infrastructure. Sanitation is also satisfactory with community toilet units that have come up. Drainage condition is also restored to normalcy after floods. Drinking water supply scheme on Saboo nallah is operational but not very satisfactory. There is water collection chamber, which is still damaged and dysfunctional after flashfloods receded, and it was not yet repaired for three till 2013. Therefore, drinking water is being supplied to houses directly from nallah through pipes. There is no hand pump in village. Drinking water supply is the biggest problem of Saboo village. Despite “Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan” programme, safe hygienic drinking water is not accessible to the villagers. At the most “strict instructions were issued to the villagers not to wash clothes in Saboo nallah”, informed Sarpanch. Otherwise “water is completely clean”. It appears villagers are yet to grasp the meaning and importance of chemically treated safe and clean drinking water. There were four “ghrut” (watermills) on various nallahs in the village, which had been damaged in flashfloods in 2010 and restored later.
Economic base of villagers’ private owned assets and means of production is fairly strong. Village owns two tractors, no power tiller, 250-300 cows, 250 bullocks (one bullock in each household), etc. Usual pattern in the villages of J&K State is to own a bullock by every 10th household, i.e. for 100 households villagers own 10 bullocks. There are no goats/ sheep now due to the impact of rising level of education among youth though earlier villagers used to rear these small ruminants in good number.
BPL households are 10% of total (26 households out of 255 households). A committee was formed for joint survey of BPL households by Rural Development Department (RDD) and Consumer Affairs & Public Distribution (CAPD) Department. Subsequently, Numberdar of village personally verified the BPL status of each household. All households own kutcha brick house. They use LPG gas, since easily available.
Villagers are not very keen to borrow loans from banks except that 35 farmers have been issued Kisan Credit Cards (KCCs). They are quite wary and fearful of protracted procedures and documentation in banks. Without pump-priming and promoting, no villager is willing to visit banks even with KCC in hand. They are disinterested in borrowing agriculture loan from banks.
Safe drinking water is a major problem in village. Water collection chamber got damaged in cloudburst. Villagers now depend on nallah and direct piped water supply from nallah, which is not clean. So far there is no safe drinking water supply scheme reinstalled in village. However, as temporary solution, hand pumps are installed. Villagers are barred from washing clothes in nallah as this channel is used for drinking water purpose. General approach to coping with adversities by villagers in Saboo village is based on village households helping themselves. Later on they depend on government help. Elections for GP were held in 2011 -one year after cloudburst. However, “Civil Defense Leh” Agency for disaster management located at Leh city came to their rescue and help immediately after cloudburst. So far as future steps to be taken are concerned, Laddakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) organized a workshop with Disaster Management Cell of district authority at Leh during second week of July 2013. This effort, combined with training of public volunteers of Leh district is likely to lead to further improvement in disaster management efforts by the district authority.
Many houses in Saboo village are not connected by road. For house-construction activity or for heavy materials and goods to be transported through streets, heavy vehicles cannot reach up to these houses. Therefore, road connectivity is needed for these houses in the village.  For drinking water, villagers depend on street tap where supply is limited as compared to the requirement. Each house in village needs to be connected with individual water pipeline/ connection. The problem of safe drinking water is not yet solved even five years after flashflood and cloudburst calamity happened. Water storage tank and piped water supply scheme was completely damaged. A scheme for safe drinking water has been started in village since 2010 with estimated cost of Rs.47 crore. However, this scheme is not yet completed. A water collection chamber of old scheme on stream water is damaged due to cloudburst. However, villagers are supplied water directly from Saboo nallah using pipes without necessary treatment or filtering. Villagers and Sarpanch demanded that new water supply scheme should be completed at the earliest. Saboo -the model village is still starved of safe drinking water for villagers.
(Author works for NABARD; views are personal)