Day 1 - Meeting at ZP and checking out Khandwa town

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18th Jan 2010 - Panchayat Elections across Madhya Pradesh. Most officials were busy. However, they still arranged for a meeting with the Additional C.O. and his staff. We had a 2.5 hour meeting with them. We tried to get a sense of state of affairs in the district. We had decided to focus basically on broad heads of Education, Health, Agriculture, Infrastructure and Industries. This helped us in asking questions but we soon realized that we were not very structured(I hate structure :P) nor had we done adequate research before coming for the meeting. However, they were patient and kind enough to answer all our queries. The conference room we sat in was quite impressive but seemed quite irregularly used as the mikes and the table had a lot of dust. Or maybe the mikes were not used often as the kind of people sitting in there would be uncomfortable using the mikes.

Important points noted:

1)NREGS had been a huge hit. Average use of the scheme was 55/100 days. However, demand for using the scheme still had to be generated. Payment for wages under NREGS only through banks had ensured minimal corruption.

2)Wheat, Cotton and Soya were the most popular crops among farmers.

3)Over 100 villages had been declared 'Nirmal Gram'. This was mainly due to the 'Kapil Dhaara' scheme. More than 11,000 dug wells had been built well before time. Special attention was being given to preserve groundwater to prevent soil erosion.

4)Total Sanitation Scheme was going on at a furious pace and most targets were met. The Panchayats had been allocated substantial budget to build toilets - public and private. Also, it was being implemented well. However, the basic issue of people actually getting down to using the toilets still remained. People were used to defecating in the open

5)Ladli Laxmi Yojana of the State Government was a hugely popular. However, the true impact will only be realised when the girls will actually grow up. The change will be visible then.

6)No industries at all in the district.

7)Power shortage affected irrigation hugely.

8)Communally sensitive district during festivals but no other major Law and Order problems.

9)The Village 'Sachiv' and the Village Sarpanch came across as very important people in actual implementation of any scheme. A Sachiv was a government servant on salary earning approximately Rs.8000 and a Sarpanch was an elected representative of the village community.

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Team Khandwa at the Zilla Parishad office in a meeting with the Additional C.O and his staff

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Additional C.O of Khandwa district explaining the various schemes and the work done over the last 2-3 years

The discussion was exhaustive and Kunal and Anusha made a lot of notes throughout. We headed back to the Guest house as there was not much that we could do that day due to elections. A very nice and homely lunch was ready for us. People started falling asleep soon after :P. A few others started playing cards. I had Paul Krugman (Return to Depression Economics) and Rashmi Bansal(Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish) for company but could read only few pages of the former before I went into deep slumber.

The evening was spent checking out Khandwa town. Harshil had to go to the cyber cafe and Mitesh, Anusha and I had nothing to do so we just went to the main market area. I spent sometime in the cyber cafe too. I don't know why but its always a nice feeling to find yourself connected to the world even in a place like Khandwa. In fact Greesh and Kunal used to be in touch with Google search even when we were in some village 50 kms away from Khandwa. On the other hand the argument is to leave everything including Google and facebook away and immerse yourself in the task at hand.

So, Khandwa is quite a well developed small town. I mean we found the market buzzing with people and a lot of shops doing a fair bit of trade. Its the closest town for a lot of villages and a major railway station which I think is the real reason for the town to be so lively and famous.

Couldnt help but notice this:

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Since my MediaE2E(now days, where I was researching on rural and small town media I have always noticed the genres of DVDs and CDs in any such small town I visit. It was no surprise here. Its a very typical genre of movies that sells in all these places. So this guy had movies like Goa, Arpan, Aasha,Saajan, King Uncle,Raja Babu etc. displayed outside his shop. None of the really successful movies of the post 2000 era usually figure in these. Even if they do they are mostly Govinda or Salman Khan flicks. Try keeping an eye out for this when you visit a small town next. I can promise you will notice this based on my observations in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

Kushti competition!!

From Day 1 and 2

The above picture is self explanatory :)

And then we did something amazing...we rented cycles!! And cycled our way back to the guest house! It was a kickass feeling to cycle after 7-8 years. We rented them for 4 days. 1 ladies' cycle and 2 males' cycles. Cycling in the cold is fun. Only the flyover was a problem :P

A happy and excited Mitesh posing for the shutterbugs after hiring the cycles