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19. Ramapuram

Having had a successful experiment in raising coconut palms over 15 acres, I thought of creating a 100 acre coconut plantation. Someone responded to the idea, and I was looking for a hundred acre vacant piece of land for this venture. It was a five year quest and did not seem to lead us anywhere. Finally, it was suggested that it may be possible to buy a 100 acre cashew garden. I had no experience in rearing cashew, nor was I interested.

As there was no alternative, I began to examine the potentialities of cashew and decided upon buying a cashew garden. The garden for sale was located on a hilltop and was part of a 1,000 acre area officially described as a jungle. It was a deserted place. Agriculture itself had not taken roots there. Water was scarce. In summer there would be no drinking water in any wells in the area, except for one at a depth of 70 feet. I was warned against the folly of buying a property in such a primitive forest area, where one's very physical safety was not assured. As my faith in Mother was great and I felt inwardly the sanction of Mother for the purchase, I went ahead buying a garden for a friend of mine and worked for the improvement of the place in several ways. Everything went according to my expectation and showed greater promise than anticipated. People who questioned the wisdom of that purchase congratulated me on the luck of the venture. More than one person from nearby towns had moved in there to buy large adjacent properties.

I was giving thought to the idea of somehow serving the adjacent village in some fashion. It was a village without electricity, drinking water, road facilities, etc. The population was very poor. The main occupation was raising dry crops in their fields for the annual food supply and walking to the town five miles away in search of daily employment. In these conditions, it is very difficult to think of any financial scheme of assistance to the village. Many of the villagers worked in our garden and I found them very good at work. I asked many of them what kind of help would be beneficial to them. The usual answer was that work in their own fields was very helpful to them as it saved them the need to walk long distances everyday in search of work. Their lands were rain-fed. Their usual crops were kambu (millet) and black gram. Some raised rain-fed peanut. For any financial scheme of assistance a surety of property was needed and an assured income from the property. This was before the nationalisation of the banks, and the idea of banks advancing money for agriculture was unknown in those days. As I was toying with the idea of assisting the villagers financially through a scheme, I received copious warnings from friends in the government, banks, the villages, etc. that money traveled only one way and never in the reverse direction.

Just about this time, news came that in a village gathering it was decided that everyone should voluntarily give up drinking. I thought it was a good sign, but when it comes to lending money and collecting it back, these ideal moments turn out to be only skin deep. I myself borrowed money from a bank for improving our lands. A year later another leading bank invited me to their bank. I asked them whether they could serve my village in any capacity. They never liked the idea of visiting a remote village as part of their work. In the meantime the Chairman of this bank was introduced to me. He also renewed the invitation to his bank. I renewed my request that they should come to that village with assistance. Both of us agreed to each other's proposals. But there was unwillingness all around. Other officials in the bank refused cooperation. My own friends on the farm through whom I expected to organise the scheme expressed dissatisfaction at my proposal to lend bank money to the villagers and were emphatic in saying that it would not be possible for them to assist in collection of repayment. The Karnam and Village Munsif advised me against the scheme, saying it was rash. My proposal to the bank was that they should initiate a trial scheme, lend money, and I would collect the money after the harvest. The idea was to lend crop loans in the first year, and, if that succeeded, follow it up with well loans the next year.

The bank officers paid an initial visit to the village. They were full of doubts but were willing to try with a small amount. This was followed by the visit of the Chairman himself to formally inaugurate the scheme. The next groundnut season was one month away. All was agreed upon. Between the visit of the bank officials and the actual disbursement of cash, I began to receive several warnings, advice, experiences of others, all indicating that I was moving in the clouds. An elderly man who had managed our own garden for the past 40 years said, "I am from this village. I was born here and I know the conditions far better. You are inviting the bank to lend money. I do not think you will be able to collect even a part of it back. Please think it over and then act."  A batch of men who had worked in our own garden for five years said, "Money can be lent but not collected back. This applies to us also. No one thinks in terms of returning a government loan. Now things are all right with us. Let us not disturb the conditions."  The bank officials said, "We know nothing of village conditions. We are going ahead on the strength of your words."

I was anxious to hear one good word of encouragement from someone. On any side I turned, a warning was waiting for me. The more I listened to people, the more it was discouraging. Though I was not shaken in my original decision to help the village, I wanted to examine again the wisdom of my move. From the practical social point of view, on any showing, it was a wild idea, playing ducks and drakes with money. All the advice I received was right from the other's own point of view. But this was not a work done for charity or philanthropy or for personal satisfaction. This was the first of its kind in India. If this succeeded, there would be a good chance of the scheme being extended to other places. For the very same reason, a failure here could be fatal for any future hope for agriculture financing. The key question for everyone was, "How to collect the money back from the villagers?"  In my own mind I had only one answer for this question. If any work is done in good faith, if the money goes to a good use, good yields will be the result and out of that chain, repayment should come easily. This is what I know from Mother. As far as I was concerned, there was no other motive than to help the farmers. The farmers are simple people who would use the money to raise crops, as that was their first priority. I was sure of this. If the yield was good, there would not be any difficulty in repayment. Here I differed from the general opinion that villagers would not repay, even if the harvest was good. I also believed that as long as our motives were good and we based ourselves in Mother, the villagers motives were bound to be good. My mind was clear and the entire amount of Rs.63,000 was disbursed in one week. Our village became the first village to be adopted by a bank.

The groundnut crop that year was a bumper in the village. Prices rose from Rs.90 per bag to Rs.180 per bag. Everyone had his fill and beamed with joy. There was no pest. Farmers who went to town to sell their nuts all returned home only after paying their bank dues. One man even called at the bank at 6:30 p.m. and insisted on paying his dues. All dues were collected far ahead of time and, on the stipulated last date, one remaining farmer paid. Neither the bank officials nor any of us visited the village for collection of dues. The next year this was followed by well loans. Year after year the village gradually moved into prosperity. In the next two or three years commercial banks all over India adopted 2000 villages.

book | by Dr. Radut