Heavy machinery was being used in a farming method that is prevalent in the tribal belt where the landslide took place. The padkai method involves making steps on the mountain slopes and compressing the land. Traditionally, only basic implements such as the plough is used. Of late, however, machinery has been used to cut portions of the hills to make small plots for rice cultivation.
Suresh Talekar, a Pune-based social activist, has filed a complaint application with the Ghodegaon police seeking action against the taluka agricultural officer of Ambegaon for allowing the padkai scheme in the area. Ghodegaon police officers say that senior officers are on the spot and yet to look into the complaint.
Since 2010, making of padkai fields has been incorporated under MGNREGS, and it has also been taken up as a project worth Rs 45 crore by the tribal welfare department. Tribal Development Minister Madhukar Picchad concedes some heavy machinery was used occasionally for making the fields but dismisses any link between that and the landslide. “Machines are used to compact the soil and at times to make small cuts on the slopes. That can’t be the cause of a landslide,” he says. He adds padkai is a tradition across the subcontinent.
Budhaji Damse, a member of the tribal rights organisation Shashwat, says the way the padkai programme is being implemented was wrong to start with. “Work was taken up under MGNREGS, the budget was from the tribal welfare department, and the work was executed by the agriculture department. There was hardly any coordination between the departments and hardly any manner of doing it correctly,” he says.
Although MGNREGS rules prevent the use of heavy machinery, Damse says heavy earth movers sliced the slopes and prepared the fields.
A PWD officer on the site says slicing hills or construction of irrigation tanks requires a knowledge of the mountain’s topography. He emphasised that before undertaking such work the mechanics of the hills should be taken into account.
Laxman Gabale of Asane village, 3 km from Malin, says around 20 acres of land has been cleared with heavy machinery in his village. “We have had a couple of landslides too, and since Malin’s tragedy we have been worried.”
CM stresses relocation of hill villages
Mumbai: Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan Thursday stressed the need to relocate vulnerable villages from the foothills. A statement issued by the CMO said, “The chief minister in the cabinet expressed the need for a policy to tackle the landslides. The government will also work out details to see relocation of villages at the foothills which face major danger of landslides.”
Ministers had pointed out that sensitive spots had been identified by a landslide probe back in 2010. A Congress minister said, “Even in Mumbai and its suburbs, there are more than 250 sensitive dwellings on hillocks. They need to be relocated.” The immediate concern is to identity and relocate the 10 villages adjoining Malin.
Most ministers at the meeting stressed stricter rules to prevent random construction, though the cabinet did not explicitly say whether the landslide was a manmade or a natural calamity. The cabinet also discussed recurring landslides along coastal Konkan.