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The Indian Express: National Network
Wednesday, June 27, 2001

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Don’t cry for us NBA, say resettled oustees

Milind Ghatwai

Dharampuri (Gujrat), June 26: Is the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) listening? While it and Madhya Pradesh can’t stop talking about rehabilitation, most of the project-affected families (PAFs) resettled here claim they are happy at the new sites.

They have got the agricultural land promised to them and their living conditions have improved. They now have pucca houses, built with RCC with help from the Sardar Sarovar Rehabilitation Agency, and their colonies have basic amenities, including schools, post-offices and dispensaries. They are getting free electricity and efforts are on to provide them drinking water. In case of problems, the Grievance Redressal Authority is there to listen to them.

At Surya Ghoda site near Bodeli, the families who have come from Agadia village of Alirajpur in MP are already reaping a good harvest. ‘‘The first two years were difficult,’’ says Sisra Kutariya, ‘‘but now we have got acclimatised to the new surroundings, new people and their customs. None of us says the dam should not be built. It should be constructed early for it will bring prosperity to Gujarat.’’

Other oustees are tilling land both in their native village as well as the one given to them in compensation.

At Naria site where oustees from Dasana village in Dhar district of MP have been settled, most villagers again admit their condition has improved. Back home, inundation in monsoon was taken as an accepted phenomenon. ‘‘This land is better,’’ says Katamsinh Nandu.

The only problem, as the Dharmapuri oustees point out, is that they have to cross fields owned by Patels, traditional landowners, to reach their own. ‘‘Often the Patels pick up fights with us,’’ says Shankar Tadvi, who has taken on the mantle of leading the oustees’ fight against the administration. At the same time, the process of assimilation with the local population has started. In a couple of villages, the oustees have even been elected panchayat members.

The villagers do talk of problems, but most of these are marginal. One of them rues the lack of medicinal herbs, used by them to cure all kinds of ailments, at their new site. Another regrets that there isn’t a forest nearby, confessing that they earlier used to just poach into it. Unemployment is another problem the oustees are facing. Often, the youth work as labourers in nearby Dabhoi town.

But perhaps the most tragic loss is that of a way of life. Ashwin Himmat Tadvi remembers fondly the Holi festivities at his tiny native village Vadgam, where he would drink and play the dholaktill he broke either the instrument or his fingers. The celebrations would go on through the night and the Holi bonfire lit just before dawn.

Vadgam is now gone, submerged under the Narmada, and for Tadvi, Holi is just another day. ‘‘The policemen bark at us and force us to light the Holi at 7.30 pm,’’ he complains.

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