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Story Publication logo June 10, 2009

India: The Bhagtghar dam


Media file: water.jpg

In September 2007, the government of Maharashtra, India, invited bids from private companies for the...


Sonali Kudva, Pulitzer Student Fellow

We set out at 9.30 a.m. in a Scorpio. The Scorpio was driven by Dhananjay Sardeshpande, former editor of the newspaper where I worked and mentor to me, and my old friend Prachi Patwardhan. Prachi's a social worker by profession, but is currently a professor teaching social work to students. She was there to provide another perspective on the project.

As we drove there, I realised I had never been in this part of the state before. I'm actually a very "city-fied" person and have never really taken in much of the rural landscape in India. All sorts of images whizzed past. Women in saris worn in the local style, old men wearing large turbans and walking by the side of the road, small establishments, fields of sugarcane, all just whizzed past. Thankfully it wasn't hot enough to feel sick.

We arrived at another dam, the Bhatghar dam. This was a dam that had been constructed in the days of the British Raj. It was certainly impressive for something that was that old and certainly Prachi had just found out that one of her mother's grandparents or great-grandparents had been involved in its construction. She checked out the plaque on display and found his name on there. We took a few photographs, talked to my contact at the Nira-Deoghar site and went on.

We arrived at the guesthouse after stopping for directions. The guesthouse was typical of its kind. A government building, nothing impressive on the outside, but cool on the inside. I was surprised to find my welcome to be warm by the officials inside. They had been waiting for me, it seems. Some "masala chai" and some cool water was produced and we sat down at a beautiful old wood table.

The officials explained that they hadn't worked at the project for very long, only a couple of months, but they were more than willing to tell me all they knew. They volunteered to take us to the site as well.

What followed was an explanation, complete with topographical maps and information sheets and statistics. Information overload! I was ready for the real visit.

The site visit was a real eye-opener. I was really glad I had that crash course earlier on the statistics of this project.

There has been no rain in the area, or very little so far. Mr. Sardeshpande asked about the power station that will generate and disseminate some electricity from the Nira-Deoghar project. Prachi filmed me at the site, but the wind got the better of us and whipped anything I said right away. The breeze was cool and a welcome respite after all that city heat.

The canals are not complete. They are the reason privatisation has been invited into a government project. It is the first time that the government has conceded that they will need approximately 1000 crores (approx $20,00,00,000) to complete this project. It is an amount they claim to not have. Privatisation they say, will still safeguard the locals' interests. They will get irrigated land in compensation for being displaced, and will get a water supply that is guaranteed at government rates. So what is the problem then I wonder?

They also claim the locals from the area have been resettled in other locations. There isn't a soul at the dam site, other than some construction workers. The reservoir is empty, the canals appear have some murky water at the bottom. We await the rains here in Bhor.

As we returned from the site visit, we managed to get lost amidst the tiny roads that should have led us back to the highway. After some asking of directions, a short snack enroute, some photography of the local scenery, followed by lunch, we arrived back in Pune.

What made me wonder was the benevolent, yet indulgent attitude of the government employees. I had no contacts, I was someone who wanted to view the site as a layperson doing a private project. Yet these officials took the time out from their day to show me around. I have to rethink my attitude toward government employees.

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