A TWO-STOREY school built at Karanjade village by the City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) for villagers dispossessed by the proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA) is now home to 300-odd homeless villagers from the neighbouring Dungi village.
Accommodated at the school when Dungi went under four feet of water, the villagers have now been given an ultimatum by CIDCO, the nodal agency for the NMIA project. If they want state assistance for their relocation, they have to drop all negotiations and accept the rehabilitation package right now. “We have been told that if we go back, we will not get any help from CIDCO,” said Ajeet Naik (45), a resident of Dungi and a member of the Pargaon gram panchayat.
For three years now, the residents of Dungi, one of the 12 villages in Raigad district that are to be displaced by NMIA, have kept up a stiff resistance against the acquisition of their agricultural land and homes.
But with land all around their villages now acquired for the new airport, their will had begun to weaken this summer when, acknowledging that Dungi would be inundated in the monsoon, they had approached CIDCO. That was in April, and they were asked to wait.
But Monday night’s rain and the consequent flood led them to be moved to safer ground in Karanjade with the bare minimum belongings they could carry at a short notice. “This feels like them using an act of nature to force us out of our land,” said Radhabai Patil (72), who sells homemade rotis for a living. “I know we can’t stay there. But I have lived in the village all my life, I was born there, got married and widowed there. I can’t just start afresh,” she added.
CIDCO officials helped the flood-hit residents of Dungi settle at the Karanjade school, where classes are continuing on the first and second floor. “They’ve told us that if we start looking for alternative accommodation right now, their offer is Rs 50,000 for four months and then rent for 18 months thereafter. After that, they will give us three times the amount of land we had, but we don’t know where. None of these promises are binding and even they don’t know if they will be able to find us land,” Sanjeev Naik, another resident said.
For 52-year-old Savita Bhoir, Monday night was the scariest of her life. “I have lived all my life in Dungi, and I have seen it waterlogged before. But I have never seen water like that. I am taller than most women and the water was reaching my chest. I was worried about my ailing mother,” she said.
Bhoir, a head nurse with a private hospital in Navi Mumbai, is now taking shelter at the school with her family. School-going children, senior citizens, ailing residents, all arrived late Monday with the most basic belongings. “Because of the airport work, land around our village has been raised so much that we are going to get flooded by water flowing down from there every year,” she said.
Anticipating this situation, residents had approached CIDCO a couple of months ago. “We realised that we will always flood as the water from the higher land will accumulate on our land. But CIDCO asked us to wait. And now they are telling us not to go back at all and to find new accommodation immediately,” said Lahuji Patil (50).
CIDCO Vice-Chairman and Managing Director Lokesh Chandra denied that the agency is taking advantage of the villagers’ current plight. “This is not us taking advantage of a bad situation. It was a decision taken two months ago. The villagers had been told everything and they had agreed about the terms of relocation. In fact, we are helping them by taking care of all the expenses during the environmental crisis,” he said.