First, a dam, then an earthquake and finally a tiger reserve — families in Satara district’s Koyna have been displaced thrice in one generation. In 1960, the people had to move, paving the way for the Koyna dam; in 1967 following the earthquake and then for the Koyna tiger reserve in 1985, says Jagannath Vibhute, an activist of the Shramik Mukti Dal and one of the many farmers displaced by dam projects.
According to him, the people who did not want to leave the area shifted to higher areas to be safe from the dam waters.
“But later the area was announced as the tiger reserve, so they had to relocate themselves again.” Representatives of around 27,000 displaced families in Satara have been on an indefinite Thiyya Andolan (sit-in agitation) at Koynanagar — the site of the first major dam in Maharashtra post-independence, constructed in 1960. Of the 10,000-odd families displaced by this project, as many as 1,500 are yet to be rehabilitated even as around 1,000 have bought new land on their own rather than rely on a red tape-hit bureaucracy. Incidentally, Satara is the home district of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.
Daji Shelar of Shirsingi in Ajara taluk was asked to vacate his village in 1985 because it fell within the proposed tiger reserve. He moved to Sangli district, where “we had to build our home at our own expense. We did not get any of the allowances sanctioned by the government. We are yet to get the promised land from the government.”
Some of the project-affected people who were given land in the forest areas of Thane district cannot make the transition due to opposition from tribals there. After the notification of the tiger reserve, the Forest Department slapped restrictions on the locals, who had been living on forest land for generations.
“It has become difficult for our women to even collect fuel wood for daily use. The department has stopped construction of the only road which connects villages inside the forest area,” said Sitaram Jangam of Waghavale village.
“There was no need to evict locals, as they used to stay in the forest area. Rather, they were the ones who protected the forest for so many years even before it was announced as the forest. They could have helped the government save and protect the forest,” said Mr. Vibhute.
The agitation is not limited to Satara district. Similar sit-ins are in progress at eight more places in Maharashtra, including Kolhapur, Sangli and Ratnagiri.
Around one lakh affected people have contributed to the Thiyya Andolan , which began last week under the leadership of the Shramik Mukti Dal.
Tukaram Mohite, 72, from Umarkanchan, which was displaced for the Wang Dam in the Patan tehsil of Satara district, laments that people do not want to marry off their daughters to young men from his village.
“We are the displaced ones. The land which some of us received from the government is in an arid area, unlike the irrigated land we had earlier. Some did not get any land. Would you want your daughter to marry a landless farmer’s son or someone who does not have irrigated land?” he asked narrating his plight to fellow farmers. The dam, built in 1996-97, displaced 1,800 such families from nine villages.
With a command area spread over 8,000 hectares in two districts, the dam has opened the door to prosperity to many, but the displaced are still fighting for rehabilitation.
“From a high rainfall area, we were thrown into dry areas. What was given to some of us was waste land in the place of the fertile land we earlier had. We having been displaced from one village, the other village never welcomes us. The government has accepted our demands two years ago, but there is no action on the ground,” said Mr. Vibhute.
At a meeting on May 15, 2012 with Bharat Patankar, president of the Shramik Mukti Dal, the Chief Minister accepted all demands of the project-affected people and even set a three-month time frame for action.
But none of the promises has been met and the farmers will agitate until a government resolution is published resolving their problems. Ironically, similar promises were made by the government at an earlier meeting too, on May 5, 2011.
Chavan promises action
At the end of a meeting held here on Wednesday, Mr. Chavan promised Mr. Patankar’s group that a resolution would be issued in the next 15 days.
The major demands are equal rights for women on land, independent gram panchayats for all new settlements which have 500 or more population, issue of BPL ration cards to all project-affected families and allotment of grazing land (gairan) for rehabilitation in case no other land is available.
Mr. Patankar said the recommendations of the government-appointed committee, released eight months ago, for improving the Rehabilitation Act must be accepted immediately.