The great proponent of the co-operative movement
VitthalRao EknathRao Vikhe-Patil is a prominent name in Maharashtra’s co-operative movement. Realising the tremendous strength in co-operation, he turned this principle into a movement. He introduced rural Maharashtra to this principle by establishing multiple co-operatives for the farmers. He was born into a common farmer’s family in Loni-Budruk , a village in Ahmednagar district. In this same village, he established the Loni-Budruk Sahakari PatPedhi (co-operative credit society) in 1923. This is considered Asia’s first financial organization based on co-operative principles. After this, he established co-operative credit societies in multiple villages and provided financial assistance to farmers through them.
He established a co-operative society for the tribal community in 1929 at Rajuri village. He also took an initiative in establishing the Godavari-Pravara Canal Trade Society. In 1944 he also established an agricultural society based on co-operative principles. On 17 June 1950 Asia’s first co-operative sugar factory was established under Vikhe-Patil’s supervision at Paravanagar (Loni) in Ahmednagar district. He completely immersed himself in the work involved in setting up this factory, from convincing farmers of the importance of the co-operative factory, convincing them to provide financial assistance in setting up the factory, getting government approval, supervising work delegated to other volunteers, etc. In short he capably handled the financial, social, political and administrative responsibilities for this factory. He benefited from the assistance of economist DhananjayRao Gadgil in establishing this factory, which brought about a co-operative revolution. Gadgil was also the first Chairman of this factory.
He strove to take education to children of the most deprived section in society. He took initiative in establishing the primary school and college under the Rayat Sanstha (an educational society), in Ahmednagar district. He also provided financial assistance to these schools. He gave complete assistance to Karmaveer BhauRao Patil in his educational endeavour. He was also the Deputy Chairman of the Rayat Sanstha for some time. The result of his educational endeavours is seen in the fact that today Pravaranagar is considered an excellent educational centre.
Later, many co-operative factories and institutes were established through VitthalRao’s inspiration. These factories not only benefited the farmers, but also brought about industrial and educational development of the region in which these were established. The foundation work by VitthalRao is invaluable to the mushrooming of the co-operative factories and their associated development centres. VitthalRao is the true recipient of the title SahakarMaharshi (great man of the co-operative movement). Pune University honoured him with the DLitt degree and Rahuri Agricultural University with the Doctor of Science degree. The Indian Government bestowed upon him the Padmashri on 26 January 1960.