It is not a part of Jammu and Kashmir or even the North East, but if an outsider is visiting Nargol, a seaside village in Valsad in south Gujarat, about 150 kms from Mumbai, he or she will need to get a background check and a permission letter.
Though not officially endorsed by the district authorities, Nargol village sarpanch Yatin Bhandari has made I-Cards mandatory for village residents, and also for outsiders. The move came in the wake of the Mumbai 26/7 train blasts, as the tiny fishing village witnesses an influx of visitors, mostly Parsis and weekend tourists.
On being asked about the motives of identifying everyone in the village, Bhandari said: “We initially devised an I-Card plan for all villagers. But, it took me a lot of time and effort to build that kind of awareness. If outsiders come here for any business, they have to fill up a form wherein they have to state names of at least two prominent persons from the village and two prominent persons from the outside or two prominent persons from the native district.”
The form also demands a copy of the driving licence and any other document issued by the government.
Meanwhile, the district authorities admit that though it is not officially endorsed, it is a good local move. Valsad Collector R B Dave endorsed Bhandari’s move and lauded his efforts to identify potential threats from outsiders.
“This is completely the sarpanch’s initiative. It is a good work and the question of extra constitutional step does not arise here,” said Dave.
He added that neither the Gujarat government nor the Centre has issued any notification to start such an initiative in the district.
Ironically, Nargol happens to be a significant spot for many Parsis, who visit the region regularly. Legend has it that the first generations of immigrant Parsis landed here about 1,200 years ago, and at present, many Parsis own bungalows and farmhouses around Nargol.
According to Bhandari, even Osho Rajneesh had once come to Nargol for meditation. “This card is also meant for tourists. But some of the rules will be relaxed once we ascertain their business,” said Bhandari.
Twenty eight-year-old Bhandari further claimed that Nandan Nilekani of Infosys fame actually copied his blueprint for making identification cards, for he had earlier forwarded the same to Chief Minister Narendra Modi, when he had first devised the identity cards for villagers.
“I started this in 2006, when no one else had thought about it, not even Nilekani,” said Bhandari, who also works as a reporter for a local Gujarati newspaper. He said when he first issued the identity cards to his villagers, many were wary about his motives.
“But, slowly I raised a force of young volunteers and named them as the Gram Surasksha Samiti (GSS), who would watch over the villagers. If I am not satisfied with the details of the persons provided to me while issuing the identity card, I send my own boys after these people, who tell me about the places they have visited and other details,” added Bhandari.
Valsad Superintendent of Police D J Patel takes cognisance of the efforts made by Bhandari in monitoring everyone in the village.
“However, we still have not asked for any information that he claims he has about outsiders in Nargol as hardly anything happens in the village,” added Patel.