A journalist-cum-social entrepreneur Sanjeev Unhale and his wife Dr Anagha Patil have done something more than what is in their professional call of duties. They have changed the standard of living of thousands of people in more than 2500 villages across Maharashtra through their NGO Dilasa.
If one happens to bump into Sanjeev Unhale, it will be difficult to believe that he wears two different hats. He is the editor of India’s leading Marathi daily Lokmat in Aurangabad and also the secretary of an NGO Dilasa which has done commendable work in more than 2500 villages in Maharashtra.
The Dilasa team consists of Sanjeev Unhale in his capacity as secretary of the NGO; DrAnagha Patil, associate professor in Psychology and President of Dilasa and Ms Vaishalee Khadilkar, designated as Vice-President. This team today is involved in social activities spread over 2524 villages in the backward regions of Marathwada, Vidarbha, Northern Maharashtra and Pune.
Solution to face drought
Dilasa was primarily set up to empower and develop rural areas of Maharashtra where water scarcity, caste-based politics and other social evils have been perennial problems. The Jayakwadi Project opened in 1976 was touted as the solution for the irrigation woes of drought prone Marathwada region. But it did not make much of the impact. Dilasa knew that the only way to combat drought is proper watershed management and, therefore, it ventured into harmonizing the use of the soil and water resources between upstream and downstream area within a watershed. “We adopted micro irrigation which allows water to drip slowly to the roots of the plant or onto the soil surface. This is done through a network of valves, pipes, emitters and tubing. It is the only answer to water scarcity problem”, says Sanjeev. The painstaking preliminary efforts have made a clear difference and in the process, Dilasa’s reputation as an agency which can deliver in the real sense has skipped from one stride to another.
The average rainfall in Aurangabad district is 600 to 650 mm. Sometimes the district does not even receive the minimum rainfall, resulting in drought. Dilasa has tried to reduce water scarcity to some extent by undertaking watershed development programmes. Their work is not confined to Aurangabad district alone but it has spread over 21 districts of Maharashtra covering 105 blocks and more than 2500 villages.
Other activities of Dilasa include women empowerment and rural marketing activities such as setting up of Nirmiti Mahila Bachat Gut Bazaar, Dilasa Agro Processors, Baliraja Farmers Producer’s Company and Rural Technology Park. “We formed 1554 Self Help Groups (SHGs) in Aurangabad district because we felt that there is a need to change the common misconception that SHGs are a mere tool of income generation and not of sustainable livelihood activity. Dilasa changed this concept with its realistic results by transforming SHGs into Self Enterprise Groups (SEGs)” adds Sanjeev. At the outset, Dilasa realised the general expertise of women which is cooking. But cooking is an art which requires a lot of hard work like grinding, grating, crushing or dicing of spices and vegetables. Due to time constraint it often gets difficult for the women to undertake all of them. Hence Dilasa and its sister organization Dilasa Agro Processors and Publishers have developed a brand called ‘Smart Cook’ to sell dehydrated organic products like Ginger powder, Garlic powder, Green Chilly powder, tea and Mint powder. “These products were specifically chosen because ginger, garlic and chilly powder are often used in Indian cooking. These products are easy to use and the packing is neat and attractive. The products are mainly sold in Pune and Big Bazaar outlets”, says Sanjeev.
Dilasa’s contribution in rural marketing is through Nirmiti Mahila Bachat Gat Bazaar. It is situated at the outskirts of Aurangabad city. It is the marketing place of SHG products where more than 50 organic products are supplied. SHGs from far flung areas like Soygaon are also supplying their food products to this hub. These SHGs are also supplying their products to malls of metro cities like Mumbai, Pune, Nahik and other places.
Centre of Innovation
Another important milestone achieved by Dilasa is the setting up of Rural Technology Park. The park is situated in a spacious 12,000 square feet area. Many innovations like smokeless chulhas, hot water chulhas, bio-gas and various nursery techniques are exhibited in this park. The Rural Technology park has been visited by hundreds of students and has become a major attraction in Aurangabad.
The path-breaking initiatives of Dilasa have gained international attention earning it endless accolades including John D Rockfeller Scholarship, and a prestigious award from the Indian Water Works Association at Hyderabad.