The much- vaunted Model Village project was touted to transform villages in Kashmir into modern, self-sufficient entities. Kashmir Life visited five ‘model’ villages described as “completed” by the state government to find out that not only were the mandatory facilities underdeveloped but missing in some cases too.

Model Village means different things to different people, especially if they are frequent internet users. It might mean a folksy pop band from London and Cambridge to a section of people but generally it refers to the self content settlements that major industrial houses create very close to their industries for housing their workers. They are physically separated from the workplaces simply to retain the distinction between ‘work place’ and ‘residence’. Usually these ‘villages’ would sprout around the surroundings of the Europe’s industrial basis with UK taking the lead as early as eighteenth century.  Although no such villages exist in J&K because most of the industrial basis are closer to urban centers, all the power project implementing agencies working deep into forests far away from the crowded cities still create such villages for workers. J&K has such villages at every place where the power projects operate.

With the passage of time, ‘model village’ started changing its definition. Now there are ‘model tourist villages’ and ‘model railway villages’. Developers in the developed and developing world do create high-end living spaces in the peripheries for the affluent.

But the model villages in J&K are a different tribe. These are hand-picked villages in which the government invested to create, repair and revive the basic facilities. The idea was initiated in 2005 to create a model village in every block of the state with avowed emphasis over minimizing backwardness and poverty, and help in the socio-economic mobility. Initially, it was estimated that converting a village into a model village would cost Rs 1.30 crore. Identified by the local administration or the lawmaker, these will have a common facility centre, a rural information centre, children park, a playground, a shopping line, common sanitary points, link roads, culverts and its lanes and drains re-laid. In fact, the requirements varied and in a number of villages certain available facilities were done away with like filling a village pond and creating a park!! Off late, the costs spiraled up.

The creation of model villages is not a formal scheme that has a set funding pattern.  Planners actually use various programs in vogue to fund these developmental activities at ground zero. For instance, the initial 119 villages – one each from one block, was funded by the Prime Minister’ Reconstruction Plan (PMRP). Details that the Rural Development Ministry provided suggest that 62 such villages in Kashmir and Ladakh had an overall allocation of Rs 73.20 crore and by February 2102 the government had booked an overall expenditure of Rs 73.17 crore. In Jammu division, the available funds were to the tune of Rs 68.40 crore of which Rs 67.13 crore is already spent. This essentially means that most of these villages are ‘models’ now.

The process did not stop at that. In last three years, the government adopted lot many villages as ‘models’ under various plans. Under Border Area Development Plan (BADP), 11 villages were adopted. Falling all in border areas of Jammu, the overall cost has been calculated at Rs 53.83 crore. By the end of February 2012, the rural development has booked an expenditure of Rs 10.76 crore. For all these villages, it would cost Rs 350 lakhs. The government adopted 16 other villages across the state under state sector in the last three years. Supposed to cost Rs 56.18 crore, the overall expenditure by February 2012 is only Rs 1.70 crore. Now the planners in the state government think the new Panchayats would take care of them!!

Kashmir Life reporters visited some of the ‘model’ villages and returned unimpressed. There were interesting anecdotes as well. In a north Kashmir village, the government set up a CFC at the centre of a vast playground. It panicked the youth, who demolished it twice! Invariably, the buildings got the priority over more pressing facilities like community toilets! In certain villages, traditional ponds were filled up to make parks. A general feeling was that the residents of model villages still await completion of the projects even as government said they are over and complete. In certain cases, it looks like a scam. “It was a pet project of the government to transform some villages into models,” state’s Rural Development Minister Ali Mohammad said. When asked that the five randomly selected villages that Kashmir Life correspondents visited across Kashmir lacked most of the basics that were mandated under the project, Sagar said that he had personally visited some villages where there were no complaints. “If there is any complaint, please report them and I will ensure these are investigated and action is taken.”

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