The government has planned a series of dams to the north of Mumbai in order to satisfy Mumbai’s projected thirst for water in 2025. Twenty four tribal villages from Jawhar (Thane district) and Trimbak (Nashik district) will submerge in these proposed dams. 3,461 hectares of land will submerge. This includes 1624 hectares of forest and the rest is cultivable land. These villages do not have irrigation facilities, lands are degrading and so is the forest. The livelihood of people is in complete peril. While government is busy spending over 2000 crores for Mumbai’s need of 2025, it has not provided basic livelihood security to its tribal citizens. The law requires the government to consult Gramsabhas (village assemblies) before it undertakes a project of displacement. The government has broken the law here, kept villages in ignorance, and has planned to sacrifice the livelihoods of its weakest citizens.
The youth in some of the affected villages have formed a ‘Khargi-hill Dharan Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti’ (Anti-dam fight committee). Vayam has decided to support this struggle.
Response of the villagers
Two villages in the submergence zone; Dhadhri and Kokanpada (Hateri) are associated with Vayam since last three years. Village Dhadhri belongs to Thakur tribe, while Kokanpada has Kokna and Warli tribes. Majority of people are subsistence farmers. Only a few youth are educated over 10th standard.
In last two years, Vayam’s youth teams in these two villages have mobilized the village community to protect forest and improve water and land. The teams generated employment for the people through NREGA. They also halted corruption of the bureaucracy by using legal powers. Communities have also passed resolutions of Kurhad-bandi (ban on felling trees) and Charai-bandi (ban on free grazing). They have documented biodiversity in PBRs and are collaborating with forest department (FD) in reviving the forests. Kokanpada village and FD are working to plant 70,000 trees in the nearby forest.
While the villages were planning and working towards their own development, the dam came in as an unwanted guest. Government servants told people that the dam was a seal of fate. They should simply surrender, because “government is all-powerful and will always do what it wants to”.
The aged villagers pleaded that their ancestors had settled here, the river was their mother; that their gods lived in the forest, and they had kept the lands and forest as a wealth for their children. They begged that the government should simply let them live and not send them to ‘vanvaas’ (destitution). The youth in the villages knew the powers of Gramsabha and believed in their democratic rights. They refused to surrender and organized the Sangharsh Samiti.
Vayam is opposing the dam on three grounds:
1. This project is leading towards further centralization of development. This will result in imbalance of development, where one section of population will be sitting on a mount of wealth, overflow of amenities, and over-consumption of natural resources. The other section – a huge majority – will be deprived of its sources of livelihood. Our country should have decentralized development, so that a majority of population gets their opportunity to grow, gets a right over natural resources, and a right to sustain at least minimum security of livelihood.
2. Centralization of governance over natural resources is anti-democratic. It brings bureaucratic and political top-shots’ control over basic resources like water and forest. These top-guns are seldom accountable to common people. Decentralized power is better in accountability; it is easy for village people to ask questions to their Sarpanch. Democracy cannot remain limited to voting rights. Local people must have rights to govern, manage, and conserve their natural resources. Water as well as forest must be governed in a decentralized and democratic manner.
3. Growth in GDP is not development. Enabling a big number of people to survive with dignity is development. If this number grows, that means our country is developing. A country with 60% farmer population cannot fake itself to be ‘developed’, if farmers continue to choose death. The mad rush for urbanization and centralization is resulting in exclusion of a majority of rural/tribal people. Forcible exclusion from opportunities of growth will destabilize our country.
The chain of dams (Damanganga-Pinjal link project) to provide water to Mumbai is a symbol of centralization, autocratic control over water, and exclusion of tribal/rural people from development. Vayam is therefore opposing it. We are supporting the people’s organization: ‘Khargihill Dharan Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti’.
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