Sonali Kudva, Pulitzer Student Fellow
Thanks to Vijay Gogre, I found myself the recipient of a conducted tour around the Nira-Deoghar dam site. Two onsite engineers that I was told to meet kindly directed and accompanied Prachi, Dhananjay Sardeshpande and me to the dam site. Prior to this, we met them at one of those "government resthouses" that are so reminiscent to me at least of our ties with British colonialism. These houses are usually large old mansions furnished with old wood furniture and are by their very nature cool to be in, very pleasant on very warm days like the day I visited there.
I was glad of the weather and the two gentlemen, sectional engineer D.N. Raskar and Sub-Divisional Engineer S.G Sankpal. They contributed a great deal to my understanding of the Nira-Deoghar issue, but neither would comment on the protests by the NGOs and those displaced.
First the two of them explained in some detail, the geographical area that would benefit from this project when it was complete (43050 hectares). An estimate of the population was not possible at this time, but they did explain that the project would allow these areas to have more than one crop every year, and the farmers in these areas wouldn't be quite as dependent on the vagaries of the Indian monsoon.
I was interested to know where the people were that had been displaced by the building of this dam. Both Raskar and Sankpal were emphatic that these people had been rehabilitated for the most part; they had been given land to replace that which was lost to them.
It was unfortunate that they were spread quite so far over such a broad area, because it meant I couldn't meet them. However, for their own sake, I was happy that they had received compensation for the livelihoods and homes that they had lost. I was to learn later on, that this was not altogether the right impression for me to have. There were ways and means by which those were to get land, do not get land that is equivalent to that which they lost. But more on that later.
I learnt from Raskar and Sankpal, that what they termed the 'command' area, essentially was that area that immediately bordered the canals. Land that would benefit from offshoots of this main canal are irrigated through 'lift' irrigation. Distribution of land to those affected therefore was to be in the 'command' area. However, political influence, corruption and just plain bureaucratic hassles sometimes saw these people settled in areas that had no similarity to what they had lost. I learned later how important this could be to some people later.
Mainly, this was the first time I began to have some inkling as to why these villagers protested. Raskar informed that people who were to get water had somehow begun to believe that water would be provided to them at a higher rate. I found this somewhat in contradiction to what I knew to be the terms of the BOT. The BOT clearly stated that water charges would be in keeping with government charges. So what then, was the problem?
Raskar's input to this was that some of those protesting didn't even pay the governmental official water charges. There were some who through the use of "influence" and "contacts," managed to glean a further subsidy on their charges. This would of course be impossible if a private corporation took charge of the water distribution. I began to understand that the issue was not quite so simple or cut and dried, as I had previously imagined.
I was grateful to both Raskar and Sankpal for showing me around the dam site and pointing out interesting things to see. Being born and raised in a big city, dam sites were not familiar to me and I quickly learnt about a whole new side to them that city-folk usually don't think about.