Of the 600 voters registered under Block 3 of the Permude Gram Panchayat, about 30 km from here, fewer than 80 actually live there now. The rest of them are scattered across Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts after their lands were acquired for the first phase of the Mangalore Special Economic Zone.
Now, most of them are reluctant to return to their village only to exercise their franchise in the gram panchayat elections.
“Less than 150 voters are expected to turn up for these elections,” says Jaya Moolya, a candidate fighting for one of the three seats in this block.
Block 3 exists mostly on paper now, Mr. Moolya says. Vast stretches of flattened, brownish-red earth have replaced the trees, farmlands, hillocks and houses that were here before the acquisition.
Once a populous constituency within the Permude Gram Panchayat limits, it had over 1,000 registered voters. Names of nearly 400 displaced people were deleted ahead of the last Lok Sabha elections, but around 500 non-residents still remain on the rolls.
Displaced persons, who are still listed as legitimate voters, are in high demand. Each of the eight contestants is desperately trying to convince the voters to come to Permude and vote. Mr. Moolya says he made a 100-km trip to Belman in Udupi to convince a family to come here and vote.
The MSEZ rehabilitation colony for the project displaced families at Kulai, where around 100 voters live, is a favourite hunting ground for the candidates. George, a candidate, says that it will be great even if 20 or 30 voters in Kulai turn up to vote.
“Each candidate is arranging for vehicles to take us to the voting booth and back,” claims Shekar Poojary (64), who owned around five acres of land in Block 3 before the acquisition and now lives in the rehabilitation colony.
“But why should we go there and vote? What is left there for us,” asks Tulasi Sundar (40), another resident of the colony.
She says that all the facilities that her family were entitled to under government schemes for below the poverty line households are now being denied to her because she is no longer a resident of Permude.
“Who are they going to serve if they get elected? Why are these candidates contesting these elections,” asks William D'Souza, a former member of the gram panchayat who lives in that part of Permude that has not been acquired.
Deepak Permude, a contestant, says there is still a lot to be gained from the panchayat for the evicted. The displaced people are yet to get the full compensation package. “There are a few who have been undergoing vocational training sponsored by the MSEZ for over two years. They are yet to be absorbed in jobs at the MSEZ as promised by the company,” he says.
According to Mr. Moolya, more than 200 people are yet to get compensatory residential sites and are living in rented houses. “These are important issues. Although the gram panchayat is not directly connected with the compensation process, I will try and do everything I can to help the displaced people in getting their due,” he says.
Keywords: Public wrath