By Bharat Patankar

                The western ghats have two slopes and two foothills, western and eastern.  On one side is the Kokan and on the other side is western-southern Maharashtra.  Both are high rainfall regions, of 3000-5000mm of rainfall.  The westward flowing rivers after a small journey come to the Arabian ocean.  The eastern flowing rivers go to the east, then from the north come to the Bay of Bengal and meet the ocean.  In the Kokan the irrigation department was not aware of the fact that water should be stored by building dams and irrigating with the help of this water.  There was also no pressure from the people and leaders of this region to do that.   But, in contrast, in western and southern Maharashtra, we can see movements after independence and especially in a big way after the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, that put pressure for building dams, storing waters and giving water for irrigation.  The consciousness of doing irrigated agriculture seems to have come from the time of Mahatma Phule’s Satyashodhak movement.  Even in the time of British colonialism some important dams appear to have been built.   It should be remembered that many dams completed after independence were planned in the British period.  Today dams that are being built were also established in a primary form in that period.  The British power began from 1910 to survey for making proposals to take water by building dams in the high rainfall regions of the ridges and eastern foothills of the Sahyadris, and taking the water to the east to the rainshadow drought-prone regions.  The fact that even though the power that enslaved the country did this work, the independent government has still not completed  it even today is a sad and infuriating thing.

The problem of the displaced got created first because the British started building these big dams in the eastern ridges and foothills of the western Ghats.  The first great battle to solve the problems of the displaced was the “Mulshi satyagraha” which arose under the leadership of Senapati Bapat.   The beginning of the fight of the displaced in Maharashtra was in this movement.  Senapati Bapat also gave the struggle the idea of the overall independence struggle and its development.

For that matter, building dams, storing water and by some method or another taking a good crop on the basis of this water has gone on in the Indian subcontinent and south Asia since the time of the Indus civilization.  In Maharashtra also for some thousand years it seems there was a system of building dams and bringing water into irrigation.  But these dams were small and were not such as to create problems of displacement.  The small small dams known as “diversion bandharas” are built even today on both sides of the western ghats by farmers themselves.  Every year their canals are repaired and crops are taken for two seasons and sometimes for twelve months.   For many generations this process has gone on.  Mahatma Phule had suggested a system of irrigation facilities all along the rivers and streams doing water conservation work from their origin to the end.   He had put forward the viewpoint of balancing this with the overall development of irrigated land and forests.   But the British government and their irrigation experts did not understand this concept.   From their viewpoint they argued for large, huge dams.  It was due to this that the problem of the displaced in the western ghats and the basic situation of more displacement began to be created.

All the governments in Maharashtra and the country after independence implemented the British irrigation policy.   Today the World Bank is implementing it.  “In order that the banks of England should get huge interest the British government has built dams here,” was said by Jotiba in “Shetkaryaca Asud.”  This government builds dams not only for the World Bank but to fill others’ pockets, builds canals – to whose pockets it goes is known by everyone.

Though all this is true, it is a reality that without irrigation assured agricultural and drought eradication is not possible.  But for this huge dams don’t have to be built.  But building large and medium dams is necessary.  In other words, the practice should be done of irrigation development and building dams on the basis of developmental rehabilitation and the principle of “first rehabilitation, then the dam.”   There is no alternative to that today.  Due to building dams thousands of dam evictees are displaced and their life is uprooted like trees.   Only if their developmental rehabilitation is done in the command area according to the principle of “first rehabilitation, then the dam” can they be part of the developmental process.  On the other hand, if agriculture doesn’t get twelve months water, the way of life of families doing only one crop and having one person per family going to Mumbai, Pune, Ahmednagar or Surat to lift weights and do other heavy labor which has tone on during the last one to two hundred years will continue.

Under the leadership of Comrade Datta Deshumkh the “Maharashtra State Dam and Project-Affected Farmers’ Conference” caught the thread of this reality and from the early 1970s took the aim of struggling for a developmental rehabilitation.  It began a movement to change the policy that the British colonial power had taken of giving the displaced fallow or grazing land and relegating them to a destitute life.  They made a demand to put a “ceiling” on the land in the command areas which got water from the dam and take land from the benefited 2-3% of landowners to give irrigated land to the dam evictees.  Once the irrigation system is established the land’s production increases 8-10 times.  In a sense the land itself is increased.  It gets assured production.  Because of this it is justice for all if a share of the land is given to those who see generations of their villages and land submerged: this was the policy that Comrade Datta Deshmukh put forward.  On this an organized movement began to emerge.  The movement in Maharashtra first brought the slogan of “First rehabilitation, then the dam” to the agenda.  This movement of the displaced began and grew primarily in the Krishna and Godavari river valleys.

After the 1972 drought some new dams began to be built in Maharashtra.  On the background of this drought a huge movement began for eradication and relief of drought.   Keeping the remedies of conserving and storing water and increasing irrigation, the movement demanded employment  guarantee schemes.   Workers and employees agreed to a clause in the law financing the scheme by donations from their own pay.  The first employment guarantee scheme in Maharashtra and the government began from this movement.  This movement was also mainly led by Comrade Datta Deshmukh.  He was the leader of the movement of those farmers who were made into dam evictees by the new dams built after 1972.  Along with him Dr. Baba Adhav was in this movement.  The growing movement of dam evictees began.  It was for drought eradication and ending the poverty stricken life dependent on one crop, and stopping the exploitative life of the lakhs of uprooted people who were forced to migrate.   Dams must be built.   But they shouldn’t be in a mistaken form or of unnecessary size.  With this consciousness the movement of dam-affected farmers began.  A foundation for the united movement of drought-affected and dam-affected was laid.  “”First rehabilitation and then the dam” had been taken from the beginning by the dam evictees’ movement.  In Maharashtra and the country the first rehabilitation law was created due to this movement.  There is still to be a law for the entire country.

But the principle of “first rehabilitation then the dam” was not made a part of this law.  From 1997-98 our growing movement in Satara district forced the then Commissioner Shri Arun Bhatiya to implement it.  On one hand rehabilitation and on the other the building of the dam were forced to be taken up hand in hand.  For this the dam evictees stopped work on dams for months together, taking the risk of police action.  Due to this today  work of the dams and work of rehabilitation is getting comp;leted almost simultaneously.   The united movement of drought-affected and dam-affected also forced the completion of the work on canals.  The campaign from all this struggle reached to Sangli, Kolhapur, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg and Raigad districts.  It reached up to the districts of Latur and Aurangabad in Marathawada which had no iknowledge of rehabilitation law.  On this background, in 2004 a study committee was created.  Dr. Baba Adhav and myself were part of that.  Unfortunately Dr. Baba Adhav could only come to one meeting.  In 2004 the “Maharashtra Rajya Purnavasan Pradhikaran” (Maharashtra state Rehabilitation Authority) was established.   A bunch of government rules were published as part of this.  The guidelines for rehabilitation, the opportunity to give alternatives to the dam or project before this, clauses for the least possible displacement, an assessment of the rules, clauses for meetings and above all, the principle of “first rehabilitation, then the dam/project” all came in these government rules.  What we had done in practice came into law.  Now we had to struggle for the implementation of the law.  Before this the government had been forced to agree to the alternative to the Uchangi dam for less displacement and less submergence.  In all this storm of struggle Krantivir Naganath Naikaudi stood up strongly with us.

In the middle period due to the pressure of the movement, this law of 1976 was amended and a new law was passed in 1984.  With amendments in this, the rehabilitation law of 1999 was passed.  As a result of the fierce struggle, it was decided by a special government rule that until land and water for land was made available people would get Rs 600 per month water allowance.  After that, when the government retracted on its words, Rs 400 per month maintenance allowance for one year after displacement was included in the 1999 law if land was not given.  Also, the government is supposed to give at 12% interest on the money which was deposited by the dam evictees from 65% of their own land compensation.  The dam evictees got lakhs of rupees in benefit in many places.   This wave reached other parts of Maharashtra but the western Ghats mainly raised the storm.

Along with these dams, Shramik Mukti Dal propagated an alternative for by the dam in the Narmada river of the Sahyadris that would reduce displacement by 75%.   This would put forward in sscientific detail by K.R. Datye and Suhas Paranjpye.   This alternative was also nearly accepted.  However, since it was not accepted by the Narmada Bachao Andolan it became impossible to achieve it.  Thousands of families could have been saved from submergence.  But unfortunately due to the stubborn policy the people were hugely damaged.  There is no point in writing more on this now.  But the dam evictees should learn from such experiences.

Along with the dams of the western ghats battles of those displaced by other projects have gone on.  These struggles also became stormy.   These struggles have created history also.  The most important of these is that against the coal based thermal power plants proposed by Tata and Reliance companies.  This struggle took place by giving an alternative of creating electricity from renewable energy.  Thousands of women and men gave a prolonged fight.  The people won this fight.  They took it to victory.  This struggle has shown the way to the people of the country.

In protected forests, in the context of the “Sahyadri Tiger project ” there has also been a prolonged struggle of those about to be displaced.  It took the new direction of giving an alternative of a “people’s forest.”  It forced the state to give a new decision and started the process of forming Environmental Development Committees.   People are now going ahead on the road of taking forest development in their own hands and managing it.

Even then it has not been possible in regard to projects such as bauxite mining and the Jaitapur atomic energy project for people to go beyond simply negative protest movements.  A strong movement giving an alternative with broad backing that goes beyond  entanglement in the multiplicity of organizations,  viewpoints and interests has not been possible as yet.   The process of buying up land cheaply in the western ghats, and doing contract farming as part of capitalist industry and “green cities” has begun to emerge.  The sons and daughters of the soil are being expelled.  People with a very old history of a struggle tradition will not stop without themselves giving a firm alternative and a successful struggle.  They will not stop without raising a new fight for a clean, beautiful, prosperous, exploitation-free life.