A JP acolyte, Patel went on to become the personal secretary of former chief minister and eminent Gandhian Babubhai Jashbhai Patel.
No full stops in Virampur: Patel at a farm in Virampur village, where he has helped set up a micro-irrigation facility (Photo: Yasir Iqbal)
Most of the 150 villages in the tribal tehsils of Amirgadh and Danta in the Banaskantha district of Gujarat had never had even a passing acquaintance with prosperity. The only crop they grew-wheat or maize-on the small 2-4 acre holdings in a rocky terrain earned them a paltry annual income of Rs 10,000-Rs 15,000. Many were forced to migrate, others were caught in the vicious grip of the moneylender.
Deliverance came in the guise of Hasmukh Patel. He, his second-in-command Anand Chaudhary and his team associated with the Samvedna Trust worked ceaselessly towards the all-round upliftment of the tribals. From micro irrigation to health, education, child development and protection, they have turned around every aspect of their lives.
Consequently, the average income per family has risen to Rs 50,000 per annum to even Rs 2 lakh for those who had larger holdings. The villagers now follow a multiple crop pattern, from organic vegetables to mustard, cumin, castor and even medicinal plants. They have also shifted to drip or sprinkler irrigation. In villages that had not seen even a bicycle till about 2010, now you can see motorcycles
In 2002, Patel’s trust had got a foreign grant to build 100 small check dams in the area. But even after they came up, water didn’t percolate down because of the rocky terrain. Patel then got underground rocks blasted with dynamite.
It did the trick. Some of the water in the dams started flowing into the wells through underground channels. But it still wasn’t enough. It was then that Patel thought of micro irrigation. By 2004, Narendra Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat, had launched an ambitious micro irrigation scheme and the state government had floated the GGRC or the Gujarat Green Revolution Company. Patel decided to make use of this opportunity.
Even so, the farmers struggled to make the switch to drip irrigation because of the low water tables. They also had to borrow PVC pipes from private traders who would charge them almost a fourth of their income as rent. Patel and his team had been funding several farmers with interest-free loans, which they claim was worth Rs 16 lakh till GGRC stepped in. Under the state micro irrigation scheme, the government paid 75 per cent subsidy on PVC pipes that had a life of 10 years. But the farmers were not even in a position to cough up the remaining 25 per cent. Patel then roped in the Jain Irrigation Company of Jalgaon, which manufactured micro irrigation gear, and together, they bore 14 per cent of the remaining 25 per cent subsidy to the farmers. With the farmers having to pay just 11 per cent of the cost of setting up a micro irrigation network, their lives started turning for the better.
Patel’s work, however, wasn’t done. For 13 years now, the trust has been setting up health camps. An OPD for the patients of the two talukas is held every last Sunday of the month.