PUNSARI is a “dream village” located about 90km from Ahmedabad. It falls in the picturesque and agrarian district of Sabarkantha.
Having won National and State awards for the “best gram panchayat”, PUNSARI could lead the way in showing hinterlands how to smarten up for good. Why just villages, it could give a lesson or two even to the metros how to make optimum use of state and central schemes to improve the quality of life.
Eight years, 31 -year-old Himanshu Narendrabhai Patel is what took PUNSARI to gift itself a stunning makeover. Today, it boasts of beautiful roads, closed-circuit television cameras, air-conditioned schools, Wi-Fi network and biometric attendance for office bearers.
Cut to the late 1990s, PUNSARI grappled with power cuts, water crisis and bad roads The miraculous transformation can be credited to Himanshu Patel, the village Sarpanch. An alumnus of North Gujarat University, he won the Panchayat polls in 2006. He utilised funds from the 12th Finance Commission, self-help yojna, district planning commission and others to develop PUNSARI as it is today.
“To make India smart, we have to first make the grassroots-level people smart, since they constitute the majority of the population. Making a village techno-smart holds the key to its development,” Patel reasons. In 2010, the village was made Wi-Fi enabled with only five connections, but today, Wi-Fi is accessible across PUNSARi. CCTV cameras are installed at all strategic points to spot “litterbugs” and punish them.
There are 5 primary schools in PUNSARI and they are all air-conditioned. Schools have “zero dropout” rates. CCTV cameras, in classrooms, help to keep watch on children’s performance, and the parents are updated about their wards’ attendance too through an app installed on their cell phones. The app also provides live-feed of the goings-on in the classroom, and with such innovations in the schools, the student enrolment rate has gone up.
Thanks to the CCTVs dotting the village, the crime rate is almost “zero” here, making PUNSARI one of the safest villages in Gujarat. But the change was first met with resistance. “The idea was to ensure civic discipline and curb crime rate. It took us several months to convince the villagers, but we finally succeeded,” says Patel. “In the past three years no FIR has been registered here. PUNSARI is a “model village” others villages should replicate. Discipline has become a way of life,” says Jyoti Patel, deputy superintendent of police, Sabarkantha.
The village has a proper sanitation and drainage system, which is “completely underground”. The Panchayat has installed an RO plant at the cost of 55lakh in 2010 to provide clean drinking water. It further employed local youth to ferry 20litre plastic containers to houses for a token cost of Rs.4. Apart from this there are water coolers that the Panchayat has installed inside “pucca” cement booths at the bus stop. The village body also arranges for a water tanker (available for Rs.100) during weddings and other functions as an affordable solution to the perpetual water crisis arising at such events.
The village has an “unique” communication system. There are 120 water-proof speakers installed, which are used by the Sarpanch to inform the people of new schemes and to make important announcements. The speakers are also used to play bhajans, shlokas and the slogans of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Panchayat also runs a mini bus facility called ATAL EXPRESS to ferry women from 3 villages, in the panchayat, to bring milk to the dairy, in PUNSARI, every morning. They are charged a mere 3rupees per head. Under the KANYA KELAVANI scheme of the Government of Gujarat, girl students get free ride in the bus which makes 6-7 rounds per day.
100 poles of solar streetlights have been installed. A proper waste collection management is in place, with a tanker collecting waste every morning and evening.
Villagers have learnt how to pay their bills and apply for ration card and Aadhar card online. “We are trying to make optimum use of the Wi-Fi facility. The plan is to ensure that all transactions, right from grocery-shopping to paying the milkman are done through net banking,” said Bhargavi Dave, Ahmedabad DDO. The village also has smart roadside libraries to encourage farmers to read. These libraries are fully air-conditioned, equipped with CCTV and function round the clock.
Impressed with and in awe of the village’s unprecedented progress graph, a Kenyan delegate of 14 left with an indelible thought of powering the RURBAN (rural area with urban facilities) lifestyle that PUNSARI has come into prominence for. PUNSARI is the “villagers’ pride and their neighbours’ envy”.