OVER 1,200 tribals from eight villages rehabilitated out of Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) about five years ago were cajoled on Monday by authorities to return to their rehabilitation places after they squatted inside the reserve’s core area for about 36 hours. The villagers, including over 800 women and children, had entered the core area brushing aside the entry ban on Saturday afternoon to press for their demands that mainly included improving civic facilities at the places of rehabilitation and parity in compensation with the newly rehabilitated three villages from Buldana district.
“The protesters were from eight villages, Nagartas, Amona, Bharukheda, Kelapaani, Somthana (Khurd), Somthana (Budruk), Gullarghat and Dhargad. They were all rehabilitated outside the reserve about five years ago under a compensation package they had themselves opted for. The package was Rs 10 lakh per family. Recently, we rehabilitated three more villages from Buldana district, Ambabarva, Chunkhedi and Rohankhedi, as per the new compensation package that also offers four times the amount of cost of land they held. We manage to convince the protesters that their demand for facilities at the new places would be met. As regards the demand for parity with the new package, we assured them a meeting with Chief Minister within 7-10 days. They were convinced and we transported them back to their villages around 2 am on Monday,” said MTR field director Srinivas Reddy.
Interestingly, the agitation was prompted by a BJP leader, Rajkumar Patel, who was the party’s MLA between 1999 and 2009. Patel, who had left the party in 2015 to join NCP, had returned to its fold about three months ago.
Brushing aside the allegation that he had created the agitation to regain his lost political space, Patel said, “These villages are in a shambles at their new places with extremely poor amenities. There are no health, education, gram panchayats, water supply facilities. In the last two years, 244 people have died owing to lack of health facilities. So should I not speak for them?”
Patel said, “I have tried to explain all these things right upto the Chief Minister’s level but nobody seems bothered. Today, only there was a morcha of Gharkul scheme aspirants against non-release of funds for the past three years. So, won’t people agitate?”
Reddy said, “The villagers were given gaothans (open spaces) to erect houses. Those with agricultural land were given extra money. And creation of civic facilities was given over and above the package they had agreed to.”