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The Indian Express: National Network
Thursday, June 28, 2001

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Materially, oustees long to belong

Milind Ghatwai

Akkalkuva (Nandurbar District), June 27: They have everything they need but can’t put their finger on the one thing they want. The tribal families displaced due to the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) which have been resettled here have fertile land, new houses, school, dispensary, drinking water, road — most of which they didn’t have in their native villages — but long to belong.

They have seen their lifestyles change, but don’t know what to do with it. For example, when the relief money came, many bought two-wheelers at the Devmogra resettlement site, about 7 km from here, in the first flush of excitement. Most never use them now.

Atiya Dholpa, 50, is one of the 200-odd people who moved here from Dhen, Mukhdi, Bamni, Hindri and Sindhulkheri, among other villages. He came seven years ago but is yet to forget his village. The land given to him is good but with no rains for the past two years, he is despairing how to feed his family of 15 members. At his previous village, Dholpa says, life was different. Like other villagers, he depended on nature for all his needs and hardly spent money on anything.

‘‘A Rs 10 note would last us the entire month for we were required to buy nothing,’’ adds another oustee, asking first whether this reporter belonged to the government or the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). ‘‘Now every trip to the town costs money and more money.’’ While his family earlier lived on four-five quintal of grains, now even 25 quintals of grains are inadequate for he has to raise money to meet his other needs. Siraj who ferries villagers from the site to the town remembers how some of the tribals would initially hire his three-wheeler as a luxury: ‘‘They would insist on driving alone. Now they don’t mind even packed vehicles.”

Most of these ‘‘special’’ trips were made to liquor shops. But even drinking, villagers say, is not the same as before. Earlier, they used to brew liquor themselves, now they have to buy it. Thirty-year-old Sandu Rodwa Vasave has another complaint: he says the liquor he gets now is very costly but doesn’t give him the usual high. Sesra Dungrya of Sinduri village wonders if they would have been better off choosing to resettle in Gujarat. Many of his relatives who went to that state got pucca houses in addition to land and monetary compensation. ‘‘We got only tiles, not even bamboos,’’ he grumbles.

Many affected families are still staying on hillsides. They moved up after the submergence threat, and till land at both places. Last year, the villagers gheraoed the mamlatdar, but got only promises.

An officer of Sardar Sarovar Prakalp at Taloda, 21 km from here, admits the government has not been able to provide land to some of the affected persons. He tells you that 443 people, including landowners and landless farmers, have been given 613.7 hectares land, but can’t tell you how many could not be given any.

But reeling off the facilities already extended, he complains: ‘‘Whatever you give them, they are never satisfied. They were never experienced farmers. All they used to do after sowing seeds was to expect God to take over. How can they grow crop on fertile land?’’

But for most, the regret is not that they do not have fertile land but that they are caught in a no-man’s one. Dholpa sums up the listlessness that runs across the oustee sites. Asked about his new life, he says uncertainly: ‘‘We were happy there, we are happy here.’’

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