Moreshwarwadi (Maharashtra), May 21, 2012

Meena Menon, The Hindu

Krishna Ganpat More and his family in Moreshwarwadi. Photo: Meena Menon
Krishna Ganpat More and his family in Moreshwarwadi. Photo: Meena Menon

Now we have to move again, but where to go, asks a resident

Krishna Ganpat More came to Pen taluka in 1969 in search of a home after his village was submerged by the Koyna hydroelectric project in Satara district. Little did he know that a few decades later he would face the prospect of leaving this settlement in Moreshwarwadi, which will be submerged by the Balganga river project.

Moreshwarwadi is small settlement of 13 houses on a height and all the families were displaced by the Koyna dam. Most of the people earn a living in Mumbai but More, a former police patil and some other families live here. “When the Koyna dam was built in 1960, we didn’t want to move, they offered us some land in Pandharpur but it was not suitable. I had 12 acres of land and the government paid me Rs. 120 for only three acres, at Rs. 40 an acre. I came here since some of my relatives were around and eight of us bought land as shareholders,” says More. He sold his wife’s jewellery to buy new land here and eight of them own about 29 acres and 22 ghuntas.

Land acquisition notices came for the second time in January to More and the others stating that the government plans to acquire their land for the Balganga project.

The experience of Koyna has left all the families embittered. “We got nothing from the government and we lost everything,” says Radhabai More. “Now we have to move again. Where we are going to move,” she asks. The Koyna project-affected people bought land here but things were not easy for them. There was a conflict between the local Katkaris and Thakurs amid allegations of land grabbing and it was a major issue in those days, according to local activists. Some of the land had to be returned to the tribals after protests.

The prospect of looking for a new home is daunting for the 69-year-old More and others. “The government must give us land for land. I will only go to heaven from here otherwise,” he says. The villagers have filed objections again to the notices of the land acquisition. Of the 307 families settled in this region from Koyna, 13 families in Moreshwarwadi and 75 families in Dawdani village will be displaced, clarified activist Surekha Dalvi.

While these families face a second displacement, landless tribals in Karoti too are worried about their future. Saduram Waghmare from Karoti says the entire village will be submerged. “I grow vegetables on the river bank and sell them for a living. Otherwise we work for daily wages at brick kilns. Most of us are tenant farmers and 80 per cent of the Katkaris in the village are landless,” he says.

The government has no plans to give land for land and there is a rehabilitation plan aimed at providing people with houses. Sandeeep Patil of the Shramik Kranti Sanghatana from Gagode (budruk) village says the government has sent notices to acquire about 13 hectares of private land for rehabilitation purposes in the village. Gagode village, the birthplace of Vinoba Bhave, is a gramdan village and under the Maharashtra Gramdan Act, 1964, land cannot be acquired from a village which is a designated gramdan village like Gagode. There are no individual rights to land here and it is a community resource, he points out.

The Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC), which is executing the Balganga project, one of the 68 dams in the Konkan region, is under fire for unjustified cost escalations and for not having a proper rehabilitation plan in place, apart from not securing legal permissions to build a dam. Defending the cost escalation in Balganga, which is now pegged above Rs. 1,000 crore, a senior KIDC official said the cost increased because of controlled blasting at the dam site as opposed to open blasting, which was objected to by local people. Crucially, the flood value or the discharge from the river in a worst case scenario or a one-in-100-year flood was less as per calculations, when the project was first proposed. After the final design was submitted by the State-owned Central Designs Organisation at Nashik, the flood value had doubled and from four gates in the dam, an extra two gates had to be added, plus other features, which hiked the cost, he says.

Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) asks why the design was not properly done in the first phase. “The cost escalations are happening in so many dams around Mumbai and this looks like a scam. Most of the dams are being built by the same contractor and if these design calculations were done accurately in the first place, the project may have not been viable at the outset. Even mandatory clearances like in-principal approval from the Ministry of Environment and Forests have not been sought for some of these dams,” he pointed out.

While there is no transparency about the rehabilitation plan, the KIDC says 13 villages will be submerged by the Balganga project and the people will be resettled at seven places. Land acquisition for resettlement was under way at five places. The final award for the land was still pending, the official said. But he did not state what price would be paid per hectare to the farmers.

City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO), which is funding the dam, is yet to approve the cost increase from the initial Rs. 488 crore. However, the KIDC official clarified that the dam would not store water till the rehabilitation of villages was completed and so the proposed date of completion — 2014 could be altered accordingly.