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Story Publication logo November 2, 2009

There’s no going back for them


Media file: water.jpg

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


Sonali Kudva, Pulitzer Student Fellow

I was delighted to meet Swapnil Kumbhar, one of those affected and displaced when the dam itself was built.

Swapnil's family had land right where the current wall stands for the Nira-Deoghar dam. His family believed in the promises made by the government in terms of the compensation they would receive for the losses incurred by them.

It finally put a face on the people who lost what I now realized was not just their livelihoods but their homes, their way of life and probably their roots in the land where they were born and raised.

Swapnil's family owned land on which they had a grove of mango trees. They received some income from the fruit and maybe a yearly crop. But their main income came from the soil itself. Swapnil's family makes Ganesh idols from the clay close to the river banks.

A piece of land with no access to this clay would destroy this part of their livelihood. A relocation would cause further losses to an established local business. All these businesses would have to start from ground up, building reputation and suppliers once again.

And yet he is one of the lucky ones. Swapnil is a qualified graphic artist in addition to being a talented sculptor. His family has migrated to the city for the most part and has done well for themselves. Yet, they cling to their roots and what they have lost.

Something else that I learned from Swapnil was the fact that corruption had pervaded the system of compensation. Where Swapnil and his family waited for land and money in compensation, there were others who had received or were to receive compensation on the basis of forged papers for land they did not have.

In the process of living on a certain piece of land for a century or so, it is often likely that official papers to ownership may be missing or dubious. It is this fact that a lot of people take advantage of and twist the system to receive false compensation.

I could not see a solution to this problem.

As I spoke to Swapnil, I was struck by one thing, the three main interested parties in this issue were not really on the same tracks. They all had different needs, different agendas and viewed the situation differently. Perhaps working in closer conjunction would help solve the issue of privatization and prevent such a controversy from erupting again. I could see from Swapnil's speech that he didn't hold much faith in what other people said. He seemed to try different approaches to get what his family was owed. But in the end, he left me with a thought to ponder; that his family could never get back what they had lost.

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