Nearly a year after the Malin landslide that left 151 villagers dead, a police probe has ruled out any culpability on the part of the state’s agriculture department, which was accused by an activist of using heavy machinery on the slopes of nearby hills for Padkai system of farming and thus causing the landslide.
The Padkai method of agriculture involves making steps on the hill slopes and levelling these steps for planting crops. Traditionally, only basic tools such as plough were used for this. However, of late, the department of agriculture had allegedly started use of heavy machinery, including earth movers, to cut portions of hills to make small plots for rice cultivation.
Days after the landslide occurred at Malin village of Ambegaon taluka on the morning of July 30 last year, Right to Information (RTI) activist Suresh Talekar had filed a complaint at the local Ghodegaon police station demanding that agriculture department officials be booked for culpable homicide for deaths of villagers.
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Inspector Gitish Dighavkar, who is in-charge of the Ghodegaon police station said, “The agriculture department has given us a report saying heavy machinery was not used for Padkai on the slope uphill the village. We also have a report from the Geological Survey of India saying the same.”
The Pune rural police have now written a letter to Talekar stating that the Malin tragedy was entirely natural and that no government official could be held responsible for it.
Talekar told the Newsline, “From the day of the landslide, the government is in the denial mode about use of heavy machinery on the slope on which the landmass moved causing the landslide. In the months after the landslide, Maharashtra was going to have Assembly elections and politicians wanted to avoid any controversy. On day one, local politicians claimed no machinery was used to level steps on the slope on which the village is situated.”
“Since ages, farmers have been practising the Padkai system by sharing their resources like manpower, tools and bullocks. But the agriculture department has now started to use heavy machinery for excavation on the slope and also for levelling. This has made the slopes very unstable. This practice is unscientific. Also, there is large-scale corruption in the use of these earth movers. In its own records, the agriculture department says heavy machinery has been used on the slopes uphill the village. We have photographic proofs that show this.”
Mahadev Pawar of the GSI said, “We have completed our study and a report has been submitted to the government.” The report of the GSI categorically states that the “slopes at the higher and lower levels of the village were regularly used for terrace cultivation of paddy”.