Twenty-three years after he saw his home and farm being swallowed by the waters of the Narmada when the Sardar Sarovar Dam was built, 70-year-old Atya Devji Padvi finds to have lost one more land parcel, this time a one-hectare plot of arable land that he was entitled to as a project-affected person but never received. Ten years after the land was promised, Padvi found that the state government had in fact issued an allotment order for the land without informing him. Worse, the land allotted to him was privately owned — the government had allotted him land that it had never acquired.
In June 2014, as the Narmada Control Authority okayed a further increase in the dam’s height by 17 metres, all those previously displaced by the project were to have been already rehabilitated. But in Danel, the village of Nandurbar district’s Taloda taluka where Padvi lives, has a different story to recount. Danel was among the first villages to have been submerged in 1993 and, amid protests, the project-affected people were resettled in a resettlement colony now called Narmada Nagar.
Padvi was provided an alternative plot for a home and 1 hectare of farmland in the colony. In 2005, when the compensation package was revised under court’s directives, Padvi and fellow villagers were entitled to one more hectare of arable land.
For 10 years after the state government committed to giving project-affected people that additional hectare of land, the septuagenarian had waited anxiously but was never received intimation about this land. “I went to local offices several times to inquire. But they would just brush me off,” says Padvi. Then, in 2015, Padvi’s grandson Shyamji found that an ex parte order had been issued in the former’s name a few years ago.
“The land wasn’t allotted in the colony but in another village (Borad) of the same taluka,” says Shyamji.
The fact that the allotment was made without even informing the allottee came as a shock to Padvi, but there were more surprises in store. “On going to the site, we found that the land allotted to me was still in private possession. The government had allotted it to me though the land was not in their possession,” says Padvi. Officials records (7/12 extracts) show that the land allotted to Padvi continues to be owned by a man named Manoj Chaudhari.
“An ex parte order for which Padvi was not even served any intimation was given to allot a land that wasn’t even purchased (by the government). Now the private owner is denying Padvi possession, and won’t let him till the land.
And meanwhile, the authorities show us the allotment order to brush aside any allegation,” says Chetan Salve of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), which has now taken up Padvi’s case.
The Padvis have been running from one office to another to highlight their plight, to no avail. “The government duped me,” says Padvi dully, in his local Bhillari dialect.
Padvi is not the sole victim of the government’s apathy. In several villages on Maharashtra’s side of the Narmada valley, there are multiple cases of displaced persons still awaiting proper rehabilitation.
Gonya Nayaka Vasave, 47, is one of them. Vasave lost his home when the rising waters claimed his Bamni village in Akkalkuwa taluka in 1993. Vasave was allotted an alternative plot for housing in Narmada Nagar the same year, but, in a violation of norms, was allotted his one-hectare farmland only in 2005. That land turned out to be in a flood plain. Most of it was washed away in 2006 and the rest remains uncultivable.
“They (the government) neither took preventive measures nor gave me another plot in return,” says Vasave. Further, when the second hectare of arable land was finally allotted in 2011, it was in a different taluka, nearly 50 km away from Narmada Nagar. Worse, like in Padvi’s case, the land was allotted to him without completing the procedures for purchasing it first. “The land continues to be in the name of a private entity in official records. The land owner and the government are still locked in battle over the purchase price. The landowner doesn’t let me enter the land, while the authorities say the rehabilitation records show the land already allotted against my name. They refuse to even hear my grievance,” says Vasave, who now takes up odd jobs to make ends meet.
Nandurbar District Collector Pradeep P calls the discrepancies “exceptions” and claims to have ordered a comprehensive survey for identification of such cases. “Separate teams are also in place to identify encroachments and bogus beneficiaries. We will resolve all such cases. All eligible project-affected families will get their rightful compensation,” he says.
Villagers, however, say the discrepancies are too many to be seen as stray cases. Vadgya Vasave of Bamni, Khetya Vasave of Gaman village and others have the exact same story as Gonya Vasave’s.
In fact, families resettled in Taloda’s Gopalpur colony say they want to take the fight to the government. “We were promised irrigation water from two nearby dams. But this did not happen. The government did not even provide bore-wells as promised. Most of us had to take loans to dig wells. And the government is not issuing grants we are entitled to, which will help us repay the loans,” says Luvaria Pawara, another project-affected person.
Pradeep P concedes that irrigation facilities are inadequate. “We are planning a couple of projects to improve piped irrigation facilities,” he says. But this would involve displacement of more people.
A joint survey carried out by Nandurbar’s District Rehabilitation Officer and NBA volunteers found 791 cases of “discrepancies” in resettlement. In Maharashtra, 4,262 families have been identified so far as project-affected people under the SSP. “There were cases where private lands were illegally allotted. Then there were cases where uncultivable hilly belts were allotted as farm land. There were also cases of bogus allotments,” alleges Salve.
Narmada Nagar Gram Panchayat member Punya Vasave, a former sarpanch, sums up the sense of disquiet among the project-affected people: “The government has repeatedly dished out injustice to people from the Narmada valley. We lost our homes and lands so that cities can prosper. But our own future remains bleak.”