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Even one person can bring change

Former sarpanch of Piplantri, a gram panchayat in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district where 111 trees are planted on birth of girl children, appears on Kaun Banega Crorepati to talk about the change he brought in society

Film actor and the host of Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), a quiz programme on Sony TV, heard in rapt attention in the episode telecast on November 8 as Shyam Sundar Paliwal talked about the changes he had brought about in his village, Piplantri, in Rajsamand district. Paliwal was elected sarpanch of the village in 2005. From then to 2019, he has become a celebrity not only in his village or in the district but across the country, especially after India heard his story through the KBC.

Paliwal brought LED lights to the village, made community toilets to make Piplantri open defecation free much before Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) for sanitation in villages, developed watershed structures to turn an arid village into an oasis of trees of all hues and much more.

Paliwal’s most talked about scheme is the one for saving the girl child. In 2006, he started the drive after the death of his daughter, Kiran, to motivate parents of girl children to plant 111 trees on her birth. The parents were also asked to contribute Rs 10,000 for a Rs 31,000 fixed deposit in the name of the girl. The panchayat raised the remaining amount though crowd-funding.

Parents of girl children nurture the saplings till they are mature and also sign an affidavit saying they would not marry their daughters before 18 years. The affidavit also says that no one in their family will indulge in foeticide. This initiative for the girl child has seen villagers planting an astounding number of 286,000 trees.

Paliwal’s term ended on 2010, but his successors and the villagers have turned it into a movement of sorts. The movement has spread to other villages and even other districts. He is invited to these places to talk about his model of rural development.

Gehrilal Balai, 28, who planted 111 saplings in 2014, said he felt the same happiness in looking after the saplings as lulling his daughter to sleep. “Now we have decided we will plant a sapling on her each birthday,” he added.

When Anna Hazare visited Piplantri, he told Paliwal that problem with such rural transformation projects was that they are limited to one village or a gram panchayat. Paliwal said Hazare told him to work for its replication. “After that we have replicated the Piplantri model of rural development in several gram panchayats of Rajsamand, Pali and Jhalawar districts,” Paliwal said.

“After the KBC episode, we will be able to motivate more panchayat representatives to change their villages,” he hoped.

Parag Choudhary, additional officer in charge Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural) in Rajasthan, was block development officer of Piplantri when Paliwal was sarpanch. He told Paliwal about the government schemes for rural development and helped him integrate them with community initiatives. “For example, we took up piped drinking water supply to households under the sector-reform scheme. The PHED contributed 10% and the remaining fund was given by the gram panchayat to bring piped water to each household,” he said.

Choudhary talked about how Paliwal’s efforts recharged groundwater in the area by extensive forestation even on the hills around the village.

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