Gitdabling is a tiny hilly village situated on the foothills of northeastern Himalayas about 48 kilometers from Kalimpong, a sub-divisional town famous for its homemade cakes and pastries in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal.
Most of the people living in the nearby villages here are Lepchas who prefer to call themselves a primitive tribe.
Gitdabling was best known for its rich ginger harvest. But a series of bad crops in 1990s ruined the villagers. Their effort to save the harvest siphoned-off their hard earned savings. They lost hope and gave up the traditional ginger cultivation.
Regimith, a 37-year-old Lepcha tribal lady, and her husband Lok Bahadur Chhetri, aged 40, were no exception to this misery. To earn a living, Lok Bahadur started working in Doctor Graham Homes' Dairy at Kalimpong for some time.
It was here that an idea to set up a mini dairy farm of his own at Gitdabling struck him. He approached the local Gramin Vikas Bank for help. Regimith, who had got a job in the village panchayat helped him secured a loan of Rs 15,000 under the self-employment scheme. With this money and a saving of Rs 5,000 the couple purchased six cows of local breed. They built a bamboo shed near their house and thus began the first cottage dairy of Gitdabling.
His experience at Doctor Graham Homes' Dairy helped Lok Bahadur to look after his cows and milk business. Initially the Chhetri family had 30-35 liters milk daily which they supplied to Doctor Graham Homes' Dairy and Himul Cooperative Dairy.
They motivated fellow villagers to follow them and soon increased their milk collection. The couple also started diversifying into production of curd, butter, paneer (cheese), ghee, etc. Their hard work brought them good fortune and affluence. The resultant success gradually motivated the fellow villagers, into cattle-farming and Gitdabling into a 'dairy village.'
Today, this chain of milk business has spread out to nearby villages of Upper Beyong, Lower Beyong, Changdung, Tugang, Payelong and Payechak. Every morning people from these villages bring their milk to the collection centre at Chhetris' house.
For the last seven years, not only the Chhetri couple but the whole valley has never looked back. Impressed by Chhetris' determination and success the Cooperative Bank sanctioned a loan of Rs 50,000 to them which they soon paid back. Now the local Gramin Bank has issued a five-year term loan to Regimith.
Today about 137 families of the area are involved in a daily business with Chhetris' and their cottage dairy's daily collection of milk has exceeded 400 litres. Lok Bahadur got a special boost when Himalaya Dugdh Sahkari Sansthan recognised him as its regular member.
The credit for the Chhetri's gradual but steady progress goes to the Panchayati Raj system and a chain of rural banks in the Darjeeling villages. The couple's untiring efforts are the key inspiration to the sea change that has been seeping in this hilly region.
Courtesy: PIB Features