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Monday 27 March 2000

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Damned for life, these villagers pray for death

The Times of India News Service

SHEWANTIBAI Jadhav of village Kandhad is convinced life's not worth living.

Forty years after she and her family were displaced to make way for the ambitious Koyna dam project, rehabilitation continues to be a distant dream. Worse, even basic amenities like drinking water, proper roads, schools and health facilities are missing over the years. "Kill us if you cannot improve our lot," she pleads with the authorities.

Shewantibai is among thousands of displaced villagers who related their pains, problems, frustration and hopelessness during Sunday's public hearing of dam-affected people. The hearing, which was organised by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, National Alliance of People's Movement and the National Commission on Women, drew people displaced because of the Koyna (district Satara), Ujani (Pune-Solapur), Dimbhe (Pune), Kalammawadi (Kolhapur) and Neera-Deoghar (Pune) dams.

"Though 40 years have passed since the dam was built, the government has failed to construct one single road which can be used to come out of the Koyna valley," lamented Shrikant Shah of the Koyna Jeevan Hakka Sanrakshan Sanghatana. A launch is the only mode of transport and one has to spend five hours to cover a distance of 25 kilometres, he pointed out. Ironically, the other side of the dam sports an excellent network of roads.

Poor government planning is reflected in the fact that 32,000 hectares of acquired land did not go under water. The revenue department transferred 12,000 hectares of this land to the forest department in 1964 only to be told in 1967 that 8,000 hectares have been re-transferred to the revenue department for redistribution among the affected people. The revenue officials distributed 4,000 hectares at random and returned the balance 4,000 hectares to the forest department to create a sanctuary. Needless to say, the people who unnecessarily lost their land were left high and dry.

Anand Shelar, another of the Koyna displaced persons, said that while he lives in Koyna in Satara district, he was given alternative land at Mangalvedha in Solapur and an alternative plot for building a house in Raigad district! "The displaced people have no jobs, no educational facilities, no land to cremate the dead, no grazing land for the cattle, poor health services and no electricity. Government officials like the gramsevak, talathi and tehsildar are not to be seen," he alleged.

Tanaji More charged the forest officials with exploiting and harassing the villagers. "Refuse them liquor, money and a non-vegetarian feast and they slap a false case against you under the forest conservation Act," he said.

While the Koyna dam has brought electricity, only 20 per cent of it is used to electrify homes. Not a single paisa of the Rs 185-crore profit that the state electricity board earns through Koyna power is spent on development projects for the residents of the valley.

The villagers have warned that they would stiffly oppose any move to increase the height of the Koyna dam. Increasing the dam height would also mean more earthquakes of higher intensity, they said.

Gajanan Joshi, one of those displaced due to the construction of the Kalammawadi dam, said the inexplicable delay in implementing the Dudhganga project had escalated the project cost from Rs 16.25 crore in 1965 to Rs 798.65 crore in 1997-98. "The dam has been constructed, water has been stored but construction of irrigation canals is incomplete," he pointed out. He alleged that the construction work was so inferior that the dam has developed severe leakages and the canals have breaches.

Joshi said no proper survey was done to assess the soil and land quality and the dam shifted the epicentre of earthquake to Chandoli from Koyna. He feared that due to the poor construction quality, the dam would not be able to withstand a severe earthquake. He demanded an inquiry into the poor construction quality and opposed the move to increase the height of the dam.

While the displaced poured their hearts out, the government officials, especially those from Koyna, were not at hand to answer their queries despite getting invitations in advance. Officials of the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation attended the hearing, but their answers smacked of a public relations exercise as they went about extolling the virtues of the government's rehabilitation policy.



The Economic Times


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