July 26, 2018 3:58:54 am
A FRESHWATER well and a pond used for washing laundry by Dalits in Jetalvasna village in Visnagar taluka of Mehsana district has been filled up with mud excavated from another large pond at the heart of the village leaving the community outraged.
Following a complaint from the Dalits, district authorities have now ordered the pond be restored to its original condition.
Dalits do not access the large pond fearing the dominant Patidars who use it. Patidars account for more than 50 per cent of the village population of 3,300. Dalits number just around 400, OBCs (Thakor and Prajapati) another 400, and others make up the rest. The large pond is about 1.5 km away from the pond and freshwater well in Rohit Vaas, the locality where Dalits live.
Following multiple representations, D C Patel, Executive Engineer, Irrigation Department, Dharoi Canal Section, finally wrote to the village Sarpanch on July 11. The letter, a copy of which is with The Indian Express, said, “…in the current year, a pond of your village has been deepened through Visnagar Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC). The earth of this deepening work has to be used for public purpose. However, you have filled up the well of the Rohits and a pond. Because of this, the Rohits have represented, the well and dhobi ghat have been destroyed.”
Mud was excavated from the larger pond under an expansion project as part of the Gujarat government’s Sujalam Sufalam Jal Abhiyaan (SSJA). The month-long project that ended May 30 was taken up to recharge water sources and deepen existing water bodies. A banyan tree cut under this project was also dumped in the pond spread over three bigha land falling under two revenue survey numbers in Rohit Vaas.
The Executive Engineer’s letter to the Sarpanch further said: “… the work done by you is illegal and very serious. Therefore, as per the demand of the Rohits (Dalits), do the needful to restore the place to its originality and inform this office immediately,” it adds. This letter was sent to the sarpanch after the office of the District Development Officer, ordered concerned authorities to inquire into the matter and take necessary action.
When contacted, Bharat Solanki, a Dalit from Rohit Vaas who raised the issue along with other Dalits in the village told The Indian Express, “The work to fill up the pond next to our locality began on May 27 and it went on so rapidly that almost entire pond was filled up in 3-4 days. On the first day, we told the Sarpanch that they should ensure nothing happens to our well and ‘dhobi ghat’ (washing area) next to it.”
“The Sarpanch had then assured us they were only filling a part of the pond so that it can be used for public purpose related to a temple close to the place. We believed him. But then, within the next 3-4 days, the entire pond was filled up. Not only that, an age old banyan tree was cut and dumped at the spot. Similarly, a well was also filled up and the ‘dhobi ghat’ that we used to use was also damaged ,” Solanki said.
When contacted, village Sarpanch Dashrath Patel said, “The allegation that Dalits cannot access the larger pond is baseless. Nobody uses the pond water. I know all sorts of allegations will be levelled. Some communities, including Dalits, use it only for open defecation. I can show pictures.”
When The Indian Express visited the spot on Tuesday, much of the smaller pond was levelled, with an unfilled portion containing dirty water. Solanki said the gram panchayat left only a small part of the pond which is also serving as an open gutter for the village behind their locality. “Because of that, dirty water gets logged behind our houses leaving a foul smell and health hazard,” he complained.
Sarpanch Patel refused to acknowledge the existence of a pond beside the Dalit locality. “It was just a big pit with dirty water.” Mehsana Collector H K Patel said, “On record, there was no pond . However, we have asked the Sarpanch to restore the situation.”
However, Hitendra Makwana, another Dalit from the village, said, “The pond in Rohit Vaas has been there since generations. Nobody can deny its existence. We have been facing lots of discrimination. There barbers do not cut our hair here. It is shocking they have filled up the entire pond leaving behind only a dirty stretch.”
Kanu Makwana, another resident, said, the Dalits did not have access to the village temple either. “The bigger pond is also not open to us. Our forefathers could not use it, and we don’t take a chance either. Our pond and the well next to it have now been filled up,” he said.
The Dalits had represented their case to several revenue authorities like the Mamlatdar, Taluka Development Officer (TDO), District Development Officer (DDO) and the District Collector.
Mehsana DDO M Y Dakshini said, “In Mehsana, the SSJA campaign was divided between four entities. The irrigation department, one of the four entities, undertook the task at Jetalvasna village. Following the Dalit representation, our TDO made many visits to the village. Also, the office of Executive Engineer of Dharoi Canal section has given them notice to restore the pond by excavating it.”
Sarpanch Patel said, “We decided to fill it up with earth dug out from the village pond after representations about the filth in the area from villagers. It was done for cleanliness.” When asked about banyan tree being dumped in the pond, the Sarpanch said, “It was not a very big banyan tree as is being made out. We have not cut the banyan tree. I do not know who did it. The well too was old and not in use,” he said.
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