SWARAJ

Summary Report (Oct 97-Oct 1999)

 

PART- 2

3.5, INDIAN RIVERS NETWORK

3.5.1, Introduction:

3.5.1.1,  Creating A Network:

F

loods in the Alaknanda Valley in the Gadhwal Himalayas in the early 1970’s changed the context of the environmental issues in the country. For the common toiling people of India, the issue was no longer the question of planting trees and saving the tiger. Environmental degradation hit the poor first and hard, so much so that their lives were at stake. The Environment Movement in the countryside related to degrading green cover of the Mountain environment and dam (n) ing and pollution of the rivers.

However, even as these issues have become the focus of public attention. The struggles have isolated themselves to regions and specific issues. Efforts have however continued to come together on broader environmental issues, including the question of sustainable use of river and river valley environment.

After the changing of the base of the Environment Movement in India in the early ‘70’s, the Movement turned towards the issue of Sustainable Development. Even before the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, the Indian masses had rejected the Established Development Process with a massive rally at Harsud in Madhya Pradesh against “The Destructive Development Processes” in September 1989.

The fall out of this rally, organised with the intention of focussing the attention of the nation against the Big Dams on the Narmada River, has the formation of various groupings, including the Jana Vikas Andolan, Azadi Bachao Andolan and the National Alliance for Peoples’ Movements.

The Established Political, Trade Union, Women’s and other Movements have sought to belittle or ignore these Movements/groupings/struggles. Some of them, in fact, have gone a long way to see that they do not gather momentum. At the same time, it is also a fact that these various groupings tend to be exclusive and vary of each other and do not easily come together.

In times of Globalisation, Liberalisation and Marketisation, there is an urgent need for such movements coming together and unitedly facing the united exploiters/oppressors coming together at the international level.

Indian Rivers Network was established after The Jamshedpur Conference held from 12th to 14th March 1999. Its Declaration though might turn out to be far reaching.  It would another good effort to bring together activists, individuals and organisations together, for informative effort to network and rally, regionally, nationally and internationally, for the cause of rivers and river valleys.

From the beginning of time, civilisations have grown up and developed near water resources, especially in river valleys. There is hope that humankind would be aware of this.

3.5.2, National Conference on River Valleys and Water:         

Water would be the most pressing problem in the next millennium. In this context, it was time to reconsider the question of conservation of water sources and decide collectively on various issues associated with water.

It was in this context that “SWARAJ” Forum organised The National Conferences on "River Valleys and Water” from 12th to 14th March 1999 in Jamshedpur in Jharkhand. More than 100 invited Journalists, Artistes, and Eminent Persons from Theatre, Activists working in Movements and Mass Organisations, Professors, Social Scientists and Researchers participated. They came from Central Himalayas to Kerala. All of them assembled discuss the repercussions of drying up of river waters; big dams and the general water crisis and design a plan in solidarity.

The Jharkhand leader, Kumar Chandra Mardi welcomed the delegates.  

The initiator of the Chipko Movement in Chamouli Garwhal Region of the Himalayas, Mr. Chandi Prasad Bhatt, was the Chief Guest of the inaugural session of the Conference. In his address he said it was an auspicious sign that people from every part of the country are congregated here to decide upon a single thrust. Water shortage was a world problem. He pointed to the lacunae in development processes of the Government. The World Bank in its actions would destroy nature, and this would lead to lesser yields, deforestation, and changes in river courses, he said.

Talking about the Chipko Movement, Mr. Bhatt said the Movement had a multi-dimensional impact on society in 1970’s when large scale felling of trees was started by forest contractors in the Central Himalayas. The common people then launched a movement against this trend and to protect their trees. They challenged the contractors by hugging the trees  "We will not allow you to cut our trees, let your axes fall on our backs first", they said. From Rishi Ganga to Mandakini nearly a dozen tributaries of the Alakananda carried in large amount debris and waste.  Due to the calamity folk culture, ethos, economy, social life and values of the community in the region had degraded. Their thought processes and their identity changed. If action were not taken on time drought, floods and earthquakes would have been the characteristic feature of that region. He predicted a similar picture of Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.

He grieved that this situation was a result of the concept of Peoples' Participation not being accepted in the development processes and common property resource management.  There was a need to promote the concept of "peoples' programme" in place of the concept of "peoples' participation", he said, adding that people can make their own programme depending on their needs and capacities. Government agencies should participate in these programmes.  The system should give up its character of a provider and a taker. This would develop a sense of responsibility and commitment to the cause.  Lastly, he pointed out that activists and social workers would have to imbibe a truly social service and not for commercial gain.

3.5.2.1, Keynote Address-

Leading Jharkhand activist, Mr. Ghanshyam, in his keynote address said that Movement against big dams had started more than ten years ago. He cited examples of Narmada Bachao Andolan, the struggles in Chandil and Koel Karo. The world, he said was passing through a historical transition. The alternative development paradigm of the Soviet model has reached its end and the capitalist model has been trapped into its own cobweb. With the communist system short lived, developed capitalist countries like United States of America are trying to impose their models of development on to developing countries of South America, Africa and Asia. The questions of impact of these development models on development models of the Third World have remained unanswered.

This transitional phase in World History required a cautious approach. It had to be remembered that creation of a new future could take place in isolation from history. This more important in view of the fact that in a few months’ time we will have entered a new millennium. The question is that will the new developmental model sought devour our nature and natural resources? The developed countries have turned to consumerism as a panacea for ills in life. This requires exploitation of nature.

He analysed the causes behind failures and successes of the Movement. He said Singhbhum district was rich in mines and other natural resources, but here the human and material resources were grossly mis-utilised.  He said the main problem of the 21st century would be water and there had to be a feasible future action plan for controlling water sources. He called for a collective pondering over the situation to give a direction to an Action Plan.

He said Industrial Revolution, has only meant centralisation of power and enslavement of human beings and nature. The bounty of nature became a prisoner of legal systems encompassing human beings, water, land and forests. Masses are forced to sell their labour, water is polluted and land is made barren. Forests are not spared. They are mercilessly mutilated for commercial purposes. Three-fourth of world population is poor and comes from developing countries. For these countries the paradigm of development of one fourth of world population of the North is an extension of previous imperialist systems. For them, human beings have to grow with nature.

Imperialist countries were now looking at water along with land and forests for increasing the ambit of their power. They have already divided the oceans. Now, through their lobbying for big projects their want to get a stranglehold on inland water resources. Water has been the perennial source of life and livelihood since the beginning of this universe. It was water from, which life emerged and provided the earth that further gave birth to the jungle. This water today occupies the centre stage of world politics and world powers were competing to capture water spread over three-fourth of the earth.

Another aspect of this water crisis is famine, which is generally believed to be a natural calamity. This however, is the result of present day politics It has come to light is that one of the major causes of this water crisis is Big Dams. These projects promoted by multi-national financial agencies in Third World countries are first major step for political control of water worldwide. Along with water land and forests are the fundamental community rights, which also are taken away by these worldwide agencies. This control of water through big projects is for the benefit of a few elite at a cost of the majority.

Take for instance the Suverna Rekha project in Jharkhand. It is aptly clear that the interests are of the TATAS. In general terms big projects have brought in the so-called Green Revolution, where hybrid seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides are used in plenty. And then for all this foreign loans are required and repayment has to be in foreign currency! After the advent of Big Projects in Jharkhand the situation has worsened.

The worst example of this is the Damodar Valley Project. This project shows that the bureaucracy with its colonial mentality continuing, brought in this White Elephant to Jharkhand and it has not done anything worthwhile. The backbone of the people has become a drain full of effluents. And Damodar, which nourished the people in neighbourhood, has now become a curse. The rain cycle has changed and traditional water harvesting methods have been ignored and allowed to die. British Imperialists did this with a purpose, that is, to strengthen its stranglehold in India. Today’s free India’s politicians and bureaucracy do no better.

Successive governments in Bihar and Chief Ministers have made tall claims of protecting the Chota Nagpur – Santhal Parganas adivasi belt from famine and provide it with better irrigation resources. All these claims have been but a farce. Myth and reality of these claims could be gauged from the fact that in 1941 12.5 per cent of the total land in Jharkhand was under irrigation. After completion of 104 irrigation projects in the region at a cost of over Rs. 9,000 million, the percentage of irrigated land has in fact down to 4.5 per cent.

The lifeline of Jharkhand would toll the bells for its death. In mythology, Damodar is another name for Vishnu – the Creator in the Hindu Troika. But in reality it has become the Destroyer. There are a number of holy places on its banks but all have lost their importance.

The fact however, is that the Damodar river system has died and the life of the Projects on it has not completed half their life span and has ceased to be productive or simply “have died”. 

Added to this is the shrinkage in number of farmers. This shrinkage is the result of displacement due to the very same projects. According to Government’s own admission the number of farmers in the Chota Nagpur – Santhal Parganas region fell from 3.95 million in 1961 to 2.76 million in 1981. Agricultural land in the region in 1976-77 was 17,68,000 hectares but by 1981-82 it had come down to 16,39,000 hectares. This was followed by a sharp decline in production of rice, wheat and maize. Irrigated land despite of these projects fell from 2,32,000 hectares in 1976-77 to 1,79,000 hectares.

3.5.2.2, All Rivers Polluted-

Kumar Kalanand Mani, National Convenor of the “SWARAJ” forum grieved that within 50 years of independence that not a single river was free from pollution. He said rivers have historical importance and should be viewed from that perspective. This had certain cultural values and should not be dealt in commercial gain. He assailed Pandit Nehru's Big Dam Policy.

3.5.2.3, Banas-

In the sessions there were presentations from various states. Mr. Raju Purohit presented the situation in Gujarat. Talking on Save Banas Campaign, It rises in the Aravali Hill Ranges and disappears into the Rann of Kutch.

The area around it is the District of Banaskatha. Destruction of the river began in the late ‘60’s when in 1968, when it was decided to construct the Dantewada Dam Project. This project proposed to give more water to the people of Banaskatha. This young river was dammed. It was provides more water for 45-50 villages but rendered more than 120 villages’ drought prone where water shortages became severe.

It took as long as 1986-87 and 1988-89, for the farmers to realise that the end result of the project was that groundwater levels had receded. Before the dam was constructed the river flowed and groundwater was recharged and there were good grain crops. To add to these difficulties the government and its bureaucracy decided to construct another dam on Banaskatha’s tributary Sipu. The project was to provide water to 15 villages but would submerged 40 villages. The noted social worker Mr. Chunibhai Vaidya organised the people and a big agitation started. Another known social worker, Mr. Raju Dixit, began organising the people under the banner of Lok Samiti in more than 100 villages in the region.

A peaceful struggle had begun. More than 10,000 farmers’ meetings were organised. Shetkari Sanghtana Leader, Sharad Joshi, Bandhua Mukti Morcha Leader, Swami Agnivesh were among those who addressed these meetings. Chunibhai Vaidya and Raju Dixit and some farmers filed a writ petition in the Gujarat High Court. 

At the same time the peaceful agitation continued. State Government then invited the agitators for talks. On 14th June 1990, the negotiations took place at the Gandhi Nagar Circuit House and it was agreed that they get water from the Narmada Project and those villagers who downstream from the Daliwada Dam Project will get water from the Sipu Project at any cost. During the Monsoon, check dams will be utilised for supply of water from the river to the farmers. In the first year four villages use this method and from 15th September to the end of October, in the winter season, sufficient water will be let of downstream till the Rann of Kutch, so the last village will get water.

As a result of the agreement groundwater was again recharged and there was water in the farmers’ wells. The agitation was successful as a result of the continuing awareness building campaign undertaken by the organisers.

The Save Banas Campaign in Gujarat was based on the traditional wisdom of the people. Civilisations have come up near riverbanks but if these rivers are being destroyed it is time to oppose this menace. Banas, Saraswati, Sabarmati are being murdered in broad daylight. Gujarat Government should evaluate the impact of Dantewada and Sipu Projects. One should to find out what has happened to the intention giving priority to irrigation water available to the farmers.

Independent India, a republic based on equality and social justice, has always tried a development process that negates this. Insistence on big projects is leading to regional imbalances and improper agricultural operations and returning the rural masses to bondage.  

Big Dams have meant losses for the people; where as small dams have proven beneficial to them. Before the Sipu project was undertaken 150 villages benefited from the river. After the project is completed only 50 villages will be benefited. This project will irrigate 25 villages (not that it is necessary) and 15 villages will be submerged. Planning and Cost/Benefit Ratio in such projects have proven to be politically biased depending on the worth of money that could be extorted through corrupt practices. Besides experience has shown that about 75 per cent of the water from the canals gone waste. Another factor was siltation of the tailwaters.  Such ignore environmental protection needs and get silted fast, reducing its planned life. Another factor is the amount of deadwater. In Dantewada Project the deadwater is 6,950 cubic metre. Such a large quantity of water in an area suffering from shortage of water is a waste of resource. The areas is arid and treeless, and heat of the sun in at least six months of the year leads to evaporation through photosynthesis at a high rate. This leads to additional salinity of the soil.

Besides, such projects lead to wrong irrigation and crop pattern. This is against sustainable agriculture. Farmers turn to Cash Crops, instead of foodgrains crops. This leads to poor and marginal farmers to let out or sell their land. Another factor to be considered is the destruction of good traditions and culture. Finally such projects take away “the riparian owners’ rights to usufractory use of the river’s water. Government have no right to divert above the owners’ lands more than is put into the river by artificial means” (a judgement of the Bombay High Court)

3.5.2.4, Godvari Valley: On the Godavari Valley in Maharashtra Arun Vinayak stated that the forests had been denuded after continuous marauding. As a result of which they had disappeared from the Valley. Efforts need to be made to revive the forests in critical areas such as watersheds and ravines of the Mahadeo Hill Ranges. 

As regards strategy and activity, emphasis was given on three types of activities. Environmental renewal, rural community development, strategic information are the priorities in this region.  There is an initiation, enabling mobilisation of the poor for action programme through local network and contacts. The action programme includes plantation, watershed development, public interest litigation and advocacy where necessary.

The Godavari Valley is synonymous with the river that cuts across Peninsular India, from its mouth at Tribakeshwar in Nashik District of Maharashtra high on the Sahyadris, to its delta at Rajmundry in Andhra Pradesh where it empties into the Bay of Bengal. In Maharashtra the river runs through seven districts of Nashik, Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, Jalna, Beed, Parbhani and Nanded.

The river meanders through a valley the southern ridge of which is the Mahadeo Hill ranges, emanating from Kalsubai in the Sahyadris and going on to Beed and from there the Balaghat Hill Ranges. The northern ridge of the Valley is in the Ajanta and Ellora Mal (Hill Ranges).

The name Mahadeo Hill ranges comes from the Adivasis named Mahadeo Kolis. They were found there in plenty and the Anthropological Survey of India says so. However, this peace loving community was dominated by upper caste Marathas and were either drive out or were named by some other community, so that they could not get the benefit of the incentives and that their land could be taken over.

Nature and natural resources of the Godavari Valley, included riverin, hill and ridge forests. There were all types of Monsoon Rain Forests, some of which still survive in Akole and Sangamner Talukas of Ahmednagar District. Riverin forests, as well as, valley and ridge forests, survive in patches. These were thick but have been destroyed by hordes of invaders before and after the Mughals. By the time the private army of the East India Company vanquished the Maratha Confederacy in early 19th century, there was little left, having already been affected by the “Durga Devi Famine” (was it the earlier version of the impact of El Nino?). When the East India Company’s General, Lord Walesley took over the Deccan after defeating the Peshwa, he wrote in his diary that damage to the countryside was so much that the economy had hit the rock bottom.

The British aggravated the situation after they took over from the East India Company. After the first Independence Struggle of 1857, the British Imperialists were primarily interested in ‘binding’ the country and getting raw material out of the country to their home country for manufacture of finished goods. They cut down the forests of the Sahyadris, the Deccan Plateau, Satpudas, the Vidhyas and others to make sleepers for the railways. They brought in Land Settlement Act to grow cotton for their Manchester Mills and in the process took away from the community and gave it to individuals. In this process the upper castes took away everything that belonged to the community. Historical evidence shows that there were protests against this, including that by the noted social reformer, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule. However, neither the British rulers nor the nascent Indian National Congress, gave an ear to this protest.

The Godavari Valley was not spared. As the British did elsewhere, so here too in the name of agro-based industry, it lauded efforts to start sugar industry. When cotton declined sugar co-operatives grew and soon all the water in the Valley was diverted to sugarcane. There was enough water for sugarcane but nothing for the human beings and animals.

Besides, there are enough nomadic tribes and unemployed people to become more or less bonded labour in sugarcane farms, to cut sugarcane at cheap rates of labour. The industry thus ‘prospered’ and the co-operative sugar factories have thus become joint stock companies in real terms.

With incomes coming at less and less work, the sugarcane growers became ‘landlords’ once again and with that came the adverse impact of the male dominated society. Wives have been deserted to become PARITYAKTA (deserted women). On an average there are least two such women in a village. Besides, this casteism has raised its head once again in the region. Chronic water shortages increase tensions and conflicts between the upper castes and those considered being untouchables.

The dominant Maratha caste, draws to itself all the benefits of development and even if the Constitution 73rd Amendment has been passed into Basic Law, they still see to it that they from the social welfare programmes of the government all the time. Sometimes this has meant getting the benefit even of programmes meant for those who are below the poverty line. 

Seven years ago, some of us activists working in the Valley met at Puntamba in Kopargaon Taluka of Ahmednagar District. We thought it was time to start gathering activists from all over the Valley and work for organising the people to face this exploitation and oppression. It took another four years before the first step was taken. This step was holding of the First Godavari Valley Women’s Conference in Ahmednagar in February 1998. The Charter of Demands was framed and submitted to various departments of the Union and State Governments.

This small beginning led to coming together of about 800 women from Ahmednagar, Aurangabad and Jalna Districts.  There was a further second Godavari Valley Women’s Conference at Puntamba in March 1999. Both these conferences have shown that rural women were willing to come out in the open and speak about their woes and talk freely as what can be done.

On the other side, efforts had begun on environmental issues. The Godavari Bachao Andolan had taken up the issue of removal of Reti/Walu (alluvial sand mining) from the riverbed. This not only affects the flow of the river but is also a common property resource, the right of which has been vested in the community that is, the Gram Panchayat after the Constitution 73 rd Amendment. The struggle still goes on as the BJP/SS Government have sent out orders to District Collectors that revenue from the districts have increase at a quicker come what may. The Movement is now spreading over from Ahmednagar and Aurangabad Districts to Beed, Jalna and Parbhani Districts. Efforts by activists also continue on the constructive side. Mahila Mandals, Yuvak Mandals and Farmers’ Groups are also coming up. These shall be built into a federation.

3.5.2.5, Goa: Mr. Rajendra Kerkar of Goa presented a paper on the riparian issues in Goa. The small and picturesque State of Goa is famous all over the world as a tourist resort. Ensconced in the Western Ghats or the Sahyadris in West and lapped by the Arabian Sea in the west, Goa is situated between Maharashtra in the north and Karnataka in the south and east. Goa receives good rainfall from the Southwest Monsoon and is liberally showered with nature’s bounties. Besides it is a commercial entrepot.

Like elsewhere in the world, rivers of Goa have been responsible for growth of civilisation here. Seven prominent rivers have sustained Goan eco-systems from early Stone Age till date. This has been proved from early Stone Age carvings in Kevan-Dhadole and Usgalimal of Pirla village in Sange Taluka. This exciting site lies on the Kalavati River. From times of Satvahanas, Chalukyas, Bhojal, Khstrapas, Abhiras, Traikutas, Kalachuris, Mauryas, Shilaharas and Kadambas, Goan rivers have encouraged the development of civilisation. The rivers include Terekhol, Mandovi, Zuari, Colval, Sal, Talpana and Galjibag. Forty-two tributaries feed them before they empty into the Arabian Sea. These rivers support the Goan Eco-system, provide irrigation facilities to paddy fields, produce biotic and mineral resources, and help to transport ore from the mining areas to its ports and ferry people and goods to different parts of the state.

He said that there were seven main rivers in Goa. Mandovi and Zuari were the two important rivers, which supported life of Goans.  These two rivers constitute the inland waterway system of Goa and nourish 70 per cent of the land.  However, there was no water conservation policy in Goa. Surface and groundwater resources were not conserved and utilised properly.

MANDOVI is the main river of Goa. It was earlier known as Gomti. Thus it believed that the name Gomantak got its name from this river. It sustains the resource rich Sattari Taluka, nourishes the ecology of Upper part of Sange and Dicholi Talukas and parts of Ponda Taluka. In Karnataka the name changes to Mhadai. The river rises in the Sahyadris at Degao Village near Jamboti Ghat in Karnataka. It is fed by Nanode, Kumthal, Mayade, and Khandepar, Kale, Nanode, Patwal, Khotade, Kotrachi Nhai, Zarne, Advoi, Ragado, Valvant and Siguri tributaries and has the largest basin in Goa. It runs to about 81 kms from its source before emptying into the sea. 

ZUARI has its source of the river is within Goa and runs close to Mandovi. It lies entirely in the state. In earlier times it was known as Aghanashini, destroyer of sin. It rises in Dighey Ghat and traverses about 67 kms through Goa before emptying into the sea. Its main tributaries are Uge, Panch Mhal, Gulali, Neturli, Kumbari, Chirknali, Gokulde, Kavade and Santan. The Kumbhajuve Canal links it to Mandovi.

He pointed out that the Karnataka Government had planned to divert waters of the Mhaidei River for a Hydel Power Project at Chapoli. This would hamper Goo’s interest.  GORICON (network on activity on river conservation), Peaceful Society and others were working for conservation and sustainable utilisation of the riparian resources.  He talked of the importance of the bio-diversity aspect of Goan environment.

These rivers are the blood vessels of the Goan eco-system. Mandovi and Zuari constitute the main inland waterway of the State and nourish 70 per cent of the land. However, with all these facilities, Goa does not have a Water Conservation Policy. In the coming millennium water conservation and appropriate distribution will be major issues of life all over the world.

Hence Goa has to make such a policy soon. Failing this various illegal and detrimental activities such as alluvial sand mining are disturbing the river eco-systems. Traditional fisherfolk and shellfish exploiters are bearing the brunt. This also disturbs the sediment. Use of explosives for fish catch harms both the biotic and abiotic resources of the rivers.

Besides this, the Karnataka Government plans to construct a hydel project at Chapoli and also aims to divert the water Mhadai, by constructing irrigation projects at Haltora, Kalsa, Potali and Kotni, to the Malprabha, for the benefit of farmers in Karnataka. Karnataka feels that the waters of the Mhadai are unutilised by Goa. Goa, on the other hand, feels that such projects would choke its lifeline, putting people’s riparian lifestyle at risk. Besides, the source of livelihood of 500 households in 27 villages where the traditional practice of Puranichi Sheti, a primitive form of agriculture practice in the flood plains of rivers, using the silt of the river would be adversely affected. This will also create paucity of water for the lift irrigation schemes supporting coconut, arecanut, banana, plantain and others in Sattari. The beautiful waterfalls of Vajrapaya, Ladke, Barazan and Vajra-Skhala would be lost. The revenue and forestland of Surla-Thane and the Panaji-Belgaum Road through Chorla Ghat will be submerged. Mr. Bhola Prasad of Bihar informed the participants of the situation in the Auranga River Valley. The issue was of displacement due to the dam.  Instead of big dams, there was need for construction of check dams which would be more beneficial to the villagers.  He recalled the devastating drought conditions of 1992.

3.5.2.6, Son: Mr. Sudama from Sone Command Area stated how the Rice Bowl of Bihar was now undergoing a critical phase, the grave law and order situation, political and muscle power and its interference collectively had had a negative impact on this region.  Prof. Vijay Prakash of the Gandak Consortium pointed out how riparian cultural had shaped the way of peoples' life. He said planning in last 50 years, which had been anti-people, had not catered to the actual needs of the people. In the name of development, power, irrigation, electricity various programmes had been launched but without any feasible result. 

3.5.2.7, Koshi: Mr. Pancham of the Koshi Consortium gave information on floods in the Koshi River. He said the western agencies had deployed the outdated, old technologies in the context of India, which was harmful for development.  

The Imperialist British along with the landlords of these plains sought to ‘bind’ and ‘direct’ this tumultuous river. The process began in 1893, when a seminar was organised by the then Chief Engineer of Bihar. There was no consensus and another effort was made in February 1897. But it was later decided to retain and raise more bunds. The British Engineers in charge discussed this issue twice before India gained political Independence. However, on both occasions it was decided that the bunds should be retained and ‘strengthened’.

Fifty years have gone past since India has gained political freedom, but it appears that the dominant ruling classes/castes have not learnt the lesson that British Imperialists also failed to learn. In fact, it was time for construction of “Temples of Modern Development” and the Damodar Valley Project and the Bhakra-Nangal Projects were being projected as the ‘New Process of Development”. The lesson was that the Koshi River could not be bound by bunds. These termed as engineering marvels soon after they were constructed, a little after independence, have failed to ‘give direction’ to Koshi and have proved costlier to maintain the course of the than when they were not there.

These bunds have not only proved costly but have resulted in the deposition of silt in them. With every succeeding Monsoon, more and more silt has been deposited in the are covered by the bunds and higher the river flow grows the higher the bunds rise. Over the years the riverbed has risen above the land on either sides of the bunds. Thus even as the summer and the monsoon arrives, more and more land and people get submerged than before the bunds were constructed.

They now plan to, build a dam on the higher reaches of the river, in Nepal from which they hope to generate electricity, which will be used both by Nepal and India. Curiously enough, even as this project has been planned, the common people both in Nepal and India, whose homes, hearths and lands will be submerged have not been informed of the impact on then and the alternatives and compensation that they are entitled to get as a right.

In April 1947, the outgoing British Government made an agreement with the Nepalese Kingdom to construct a dam on the river in the Warah (one of the incarnations of the Hindu Pantheon) Region where three streams of Koshi meet. Construction of the dam began after independence in 1951. Project cost of Rs. 177 Crores at that time was high and generation of 1,800 MW power from the project were thought to be too much. An alternative project was prepared. Under this scheme it was proposed to build an 85 feet high and 19.2 Kms long dam on the river. There were to be right and left bank canals that would totally irrigate more than 26 lakhs hectares of land and produce 68 MW of power at Belka.

The people of the region were apprehensive of the project and the effort to contain the Koshi, remained at the level of strengthening or elongating the bund. These bunds were yet to be constructed when in 1953 the region was adversely affected by floods and as being immediately effective this project was accepted and work began. It was felt that this project would protect 5.28 lakhs hectares of lands in the fertile plains and people in Purnea and Saharsa Districts. These were also expected to irrigate 14 lakhs hectares of land in them. It was assumed that 20 ME of power would be generated. Thus what considered being ‘GHATIA’ (useless) project became the top priority project.

It was expected that after the construction of the embankment, the floods would cease to be a menace to the people of the region. However, in 1977 the entire embankment almost collapsed. In July 1980, the entire left embankment collapsed. After this the Engineers decided to revive the earlier proposal for constructing 3,300 MW Hydel Power Project. By then the cost had risen to Rs. 4,054 Crores and today the cost has risen to Rs. 25,000 Crores. In the meantime, the bund collapsed in September 1984 in Saharsa District. The floods devastated Navhatta town and 196 other villages. The officials appeared to be waiting for this opportunity and they cynically condemned the construction of the bunds.

The wheel of history in the Koshi Region has turned a full circle. In the beginning there was opposition the construction of bunds. Later they was seen as easy and necessary solution to directing the flooding of the Koshi for useful purposes and now they want to do away with the embankment and construct multi-purpose projects on the river near its border with Nepal.

In meantime, the issue of displacement and rehabilitation of lakhs of people, especially the poor, became an insurmountable question. As per the 1951 census, the flooding of the river has constantly displaced at least 2.5 lakhs people in 338 villages. Their rehabilitation has been only on paper. Added to this is the creation of unwanted wetland in the ten kms by 125 kms area on the banks of Koshi. The bunds were to protect 2.14 lakhs hectares of land. However, the reality is that 2.92 lakhs hectares have been permanently mired in the floods of the river. And then there is issue of generation of power from the Hydel power station installed on the on the East Main Canal of the project. This has not generated any power so far.

The so called development projects in the Koshi Valley has resulted in disturbing nature’s balance, resulting in increasing floods, water logged areas, poverty, unemployment, displacement and migration, child labour, spread of infectious diseases, malnutrition and hunger and the like.

The search for alternative is on, especially from the younger generation, which gathered together and formed a network type of an organisation called the Koshi Consortium.

This consortium was established at a conference on 24th and 25th February 1993. The consortium has been organising people on the banks of the Koshi River in Saharsa, Supole, Madhepura, Arariya, Purnea, Katihar, Navchagia, Khagadia, Samastipur, Darbhanga and Madhubamni Districts of North Bihar.

The people’s movement in Kosi Consortium area has led to the establishment of Koshi Displaced People’s Development Authority, which is responsible for rehabilitation of people displaced by floods of the Koshi. The first of the activities of the Authority, has been rehabilitate 71,000 displaced families, who normally live on the area of the embankments of the river. Discussions are in progress about matters concerning those displaced by water logging because of the embankments. Besides, talks are on the issue of construction of more dams on the river.

3.5.2.8, Orissa: The presentations on the next day included that of Ms. Kalpana Mishra from Orissa.  She said, there were ten main rivers in that state besides, more than 300 small rivers and rivulets. Of the major hydroelectric projects of India, four were constructed in the State - Hirakud, Machhakund, Rengaii and lndravati. During 50’s and 60’s major projects like steel plants, paper mills, Alumina and MIG had been undertaken in Orissa. All these projects were mainly responsible for large-scale displacement of humans and their habitat and destruction of vegetation cover. 

Ms. Mishra pointed out that the cost benefit analysis of big projects showed that did not add to the national income. On the contrary land was submerged. There was a loss of forests, continuous drought and misery in the downstream area. The Rehabilitation Policy of the government was also anti-people. Who are evicted? All the time they were either the adivasis or the dalits or both. There were people who had been evicted thrice in their life to make way for projects.    

Mr. Pramod Pattanaik also of Orissa, talked about the aspects of dam/water policy in the state. He said these situations were man made and callous politicians were responsible for this.  Thus, he added we would have to lead movement for adivasi rights and displacement.

The annual run off of the rivers of Orissa is calculated at about 17 metre hectares per minute. Scrutiny of rainfall data during the last 86 years reveal that districts which receive the maximum rainfall due to influence of hills and vegetation are Sundergarh, Sambhalpur, Mayubhanj, Phulbani, Koraput, Dhenkanal, Keonjhar and Ganjam. However, the districts of Puri, Cuttack, Balasore and parts of Ganjam are influenced cyclones and storms off the Bay of Bengal, while some districts like Bolangir, Nawapada and Padampur Districts fall in the rain shadow area and have less rain. Besides massive deforestation has taken place, and rainfall co-related to forests has become erratic and fluctuating. Major Rivers of Orissa: - Mahanadi is a Major river of Orissa. Originating at Parasiya in Raipur District of Madhya Pradesh, it traverses 851 kms before emptying into the Bay of Bengal However, as far as drinking water is concerned, this river’s waters are polluted by industry all its banks and is not fit for drinking.

Brahmani rises at Nagri village near Ranchi in Jharkhand and traverses 800 kms before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. Waters of this second largest river in Orissa are poisonous because of Industries and mining along its banks. Industrial complexes like Rourkela and its township, Kamalanga in the Angul-Talcher area, have made it impossible to improve the quality of its water.

Suverna Rekha rising Ranchi District traverses 395 kms in Orissa before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. It is a bone of contention between Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal.

They said there was pollution of other water resources too. For instance take the Taladanada Canal: - This oldest of the canal system in the State is 86 kms in length. It supplies water to Paradeep Phosphates and Paradeep Port besides irrigating 28,870 hectares. Cuttack drainage has polluted this canal.

Chilika Lake: - Large quantities of agro-chemicals and pesticides find their way into Chilika through many rivers that empty into it. Copper, Lead, Zinc and Nitrates have been found in different depths of the lake.

Hirakud: The water here is highly alkaline and there is a high chemical Oxygen demand.

3.5.2.9, Koel Karo: Ms. Dayamani Barla, an activist pointed out to the situation, in Koel Karo. Collective leadership by local people was needed.  There was the need for internalisation nature and natural resources. She referred to the case of Suverna Rekha, and termed it as The Blurred Gold Line. However, in 1964 The Technical Committee of the Eastern Zone Council, decided to blur this line by deciding to build projects on the river to provide ‘justifiable’ water supply to three states – Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal. Detailed proposal and plans were sent to the Union Government and the project was sanctioned in 1977. The Union Government sanctioned Rs. 129 Crores for the project. The cost rose to Rs. 12850 million later.

The project comprised of construction of two dams, one on the Suverna Rekha and the other on Khadkai. Two barrages are to be constructed – one at Ganjia near Adityapur on the Khadkai River and the other at Galudiha near Ghatshila. Two canals are to be dug out – one from Chandil Dam and another from Icha Dam. Another two more canals will be dug out from the two barrages at Galudiha and Ganjia. The Chandil Dam will swallow 17,028 hectares of land. Of this 3,260 hectares are Revenue Land and 1,060 hectares are forestland. The rest belongs to local adivasi communities.

Icha Dam will submerge 8,585 hectares of land in Bihar and 4,415 hectares of land in Orissa. A total of 7,075 hectares of this land is private land, 1,250 hectares is Revenue Land and 280 hectares are forestland. The Ganjia Barrage will require 266 hectares of land, of which 50 hectares is private land, 14 hectares is Revenue Land and 202 hectares is forestland.

Galudiha Barrage will require 180 hectares of land, of which 150 hectares is private land and 30 hectares is Revenue Land. In the Chandil Left Canal will require 1,242 hectares of land, of which 730 hectares is Private Land, 67 hectares is Revenue Land and 445 hectares is forestland. Icha Canals will require 684 hectares of land. Of this 470 hectares is private land, 174 hectares is Revenue Land and 40 hectares is forestland. Khadkai canals will require 263 hectares of land. Of this 102 hectares is private land, 40 hectares is Revenue Land and 121 hectares is forestland. Galudiha Left Canal will require 747 hectares of land. Of this, 490 hectares is private land, 137 hectares is Revenue Land and 120 hectares is forestland.

The channels will require 1,787 hectares of land. Of this 1,030 hectares are privately owned, 260 hectares are Revenue Land and forestland is 497 hectares. Chandil Dam will submerge 116 villages displacing 6,820 families or a population of 37,556 persons. Of these 6,820 families are adivasis and 450 families are dalits. Icha Dam will submerge 66 villages and 2,902 families or 12,160 persons will be displaced. Of these 1,031 families are adivasis and 59 families are dalits.

Government has made loud claims about boost in agricultural production because of the Suverna Rekha Project. Inflated claims regarding increase in production of wheat, peanuts, soybeans, potato and sugarcane. It also claimed that people living below the poverty line would also go down from 75 per cent of the population to 23 per cent. What is the basis of these claims?

The villagers in Singhbhum District feel that the canal systems of the Suverna Rekha project have been of no use to them. It would have been better to have small dams, pools, ponds and lift irrigation systems. These alternatives had been beneficial to them in the past. According to official documents irrigated land had in fact, decreased from 1,02,244 acres in 1941 to 58,360 acres in 1980-81.

So, the only people or institution to benefit from this project will be the Tatas in Jamshedpur.

Ms. Barla said that the deteriorating state of the Damodar Valley Project reflects the state of the deteriorating environment of Jharkhand. This project was constructed on the lines of the Tennessee Valley Project in the USA. The Damodar River emerges from Barkakana in the Khamer Petki Hill Ranges in Jharkhand and traverses 277 kms through the districts of Palamu, Hazaribaugh, Bokaro Dhanbad, and Santhal Parganas in Bihar before entering West Bengal. In West Bengal it traverses through Purulia, Bardhaman, Hoogly and Howrah District before it merges with the Hoogly River near Calcutta. Damodar is fed by more than a dozen tributaries on its way to Hoogly. Before a massive industrialisation drive, this river flowed freely and its environment brought joy and plenty to the villagers on its bank.

But with industrialisation and multi-purpose projects in the Damodar Valley, their lives turned into misery. Mines, Collieries, Coal Washeries, Power Stations, Steel Plants, Fertliser Plans, all have polluted the river and turned into a drain. The original purpose of the projects were to prevent flooding in the neighbouring West Bengal, appropriate use of its water sources, save the soil from being washed away by floods, fisheries and afforestation.

3.5.2.9.1, People are against these Projects:

Whenever rural masses are confronted with displacement, sorrow and pain can be seen written all over their faces. People’s organisations come up to oppose the projects and face the onslaught of this exploitative development process.

The Forward Block MLA from the region, Mr. Ghanashyam Mahato took up cudgels on behalf of the local people and started an agitation against the Project in 1978. On March 26th 1978 a rally of affected persons was organised at Chandil Dam site. A seven point Charter of Demands was submitted to the officials.

It was decided to go on hunger strike if the demands were not met. The hunger strike began on 23rd April 1978. The bureaucracy did not make any move to settle the dispute. The affected villagers began turning up in large numbers to support the agitation. On 28th April 1978, the state government sent a strong police force to the Dak Bungalow where the agitation was in progress. Police started threatening the agitators. On 29th April the Deputy Commissioner arrived on the scene. He called on Mr. Mahato. Mr. Mahato asked the Deputy Commissioner come for discussions at the site. The Deputy Commissioner did not come. Instead 40-armed constables attacked the Satyagrahis.

Police did not spare the 81-year-old freedom fighter; Vimalendu Das Gupta who had worked with Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. They dragged him and threw him into a waiting lorry. All the hunger strikers were sent to jail. Adivasis and dalits of the region were angered and on 30th April eight to ten thousand marched on to the area where the Hunger strike had taken place. Among them more than one thousand were women. A fresh hunger strike started. The District Magistrate warned the Satyagrahis against resorting to agitation at the place. The people were unmoved and the police lobbed teargas shells on them. When crowd did not disperse, the Magistrate ordered the police to open fire. Four persons died on the spot and 16 others later.

People in the Icha Dam region came to know of the events in Chandil and they formed a Sangarsh Samiti of their own. Former army man and President’s Medal Awardee, Mr. Gangaram Kalundia led them. He led them to a huge demonstration at Iligadha on 3rd April 1982. Police took into custody 12 of the demonstrators but Mr. Kalundia escaped custody.

The police however, knocked at his door in the village at the midnight hour. Mr. Kalundia tried to escape again and ran away from the place. Police shot him the legs and he was captured. He was taken into the Black Maria (Police vehicle) nearby. Local adivasis came to know about his capture and ran in to surround the Black Maria. Police opened fire to disperse the crowd and drove the vehicle onto a distance. There they tortured Mr. Kalundia to death. The next day they delivered the mutilated body to the village on 6th April. The then Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Mrs. Sunila Vasant condemned police action and urged Bihar Government to immediately stop work on the Project.

Undertaking work on such projects in adivasi areas is a conspiracy against them. It seems that the so-called Civil Society refuses to understand the traditional life style of the adivasis, their production methods, their culture and their understanding of nature and natural resources. As a result all projects supposedly made for their development, have failed to deliver the goods. The escapist attitudes of the government agencies are also responsible for these failures. These government agencies do not consider the practicality of traditional knowledge and the geographical set up, while planning such projects.

All the projects are said to that will bring irrigation at your doorstep. In this case it was stated that rice production in the area would treble, wheat production would rise to 2.10 lakhs tonnes and production of groundnuts, soybeans, potatoes and sugarcane would also rise. It was contended that 75 per cent of the agricultural population in the region was below the poverty line and if the project was implemented this percentage would drop to 23 per cent. One does not know the basis of this contention.

The fact that the World Bank lobbied for giving assistance for the Suverna Rekha Project clearly indicates the vested interests behind the Project. Such projects sought to be constructed to fulfil the vested interests of lobbies and brought on because of corrupt practices of the political party leaders bureaucracy, would harm the future generation in Singhbhum District.

Take for instance, the first phase of the project. It was not completed in time nor did it benefit the named beneficiaries. Not a single affected person got any compensation. Not one family was rehabilitated elsewhere as promised. There was no effort to co-ordinate the construction work and as a result the entire work is only half-done till date. As a result, those displaced by that phase have become homeless and landless. They were already poor and have been further pauperised.

World Bank has intervened in the first phase, time and again and there were doubts about its intentions. The feeling is that the activities of vested interest in this case were at the behest of the World Bank. The Bank has indirectly interfered in the giving contracts for work to be undertaken in the construction of the Dam. As a result the cost of the project has risen. The Bihar Government has accepted tenders from contractors at 60 to 70 per cent higher rate than normal. The World Bank has thus lobbied for huge intervention by the private sector in the construction of the project. The Comptroller and Auditor General has pointed out to this in his reports.

The interest of the World Bank in the project can be stated to be ‘exemplary’. Forty-five research studies were conducted by it and its ‘experts’ visited the site on 150 occasions. However, the speed of the work continues to be slow and the costs keep rising. Why? 

Besides, the authorities have not viewed the issue of compensation and rehabilitation with justice. Even as of today, those families whose homes, hearths and land will be submerged continue to live in the same villages.

At Chandil, where the Dam is going to come up the villagers say that there has been nothing but misery in their life since the project has been approved. All the land has been acquired for construction of the project. Before the land was useful for cultivation of rice, gram, wheat, tomatoes, turnips, egg plant and potatoes. Now there is no employment and the village does have the waters of the Suverna Rekha.

There used to fish in the river when there was water in it. Now there is no water and no fish. There were others who used to pick up gold dust. Now that is also gone. And then when there was no water in the wells and tanks of the village, people would be sure of getting water from the river.

So far only 35 per cent of the 300 families in the village have got some sort of compensation. That too after succumbing to ‘brokerage’ and corruption. As the villagers stood up against some action was taken and three local employees who had taken to these habits were suspended. People from neighbouring Paatkum Villages, whose lands will also submerge, have yet to get any sort of compensation. Here those who brokered the compensation became rich but the compensation has not reached the families displaced. There have been a number novel cases where the brokers have taken the compensation on behalf of non-existent persons!

3.5.2.10, Chaliyar: Mr. Sharif Ullath from Kerala said Mavoor is a small village in Kerala on the banks of River Chaliyar, but more polluted than Delhi. The air and water there is polluted by Grasim Industries. The emissions from this industrial unit, including S02, CS2, H2S, other organo Chlorine compounds besides Dioxin have the residents of the village gasping for life.

Cancer and Pulmonary infections abound the area. Cancer death Vazakkad and Mavoor are to the order of 29 per cent deaths as against the state average of 6.3 per cent. Effluents from Grasim Industries has turned Chaliyar into a drain and added to this is deforestation due to cutting of bamboo and softwood for producing rayon and other goods id eroding whatever green cover that is left.

The Grasim Industries have not followed the norms of environment protection as laid down by the state pollution control board but government does not have the political will to enforce the rules. The people of the village and in the neighbourhood have been agitating for some time to get government to take action.

Nagendra Bhai, freedom fighter gave the picture of government’s policies before and after independence.  He focused on the selfish politicians, corrupt bureaucrats, and the role of MNCs.  The patent policy, insurance policy was harmful for the common people.  Shripad Raju, US settled activists, associated with Save Western Ghats Movement, said, we should imbibe Gandhi and Vinobas’ feelings in our action.  He stressed on values, truth and non-violence.  He further stated the statistics had no relevance in measuring the actual trend of development. 

Intervening, Mr. Mani said, the 1999 budget was anti-people. He pointed out as to what went wrong with the budget. Firstly, national expenditure was more than national income.  This was estimated to touch Rs. 1,04,000 Crores about 6.6 per cent of GDP.  The current gap was Rs 13,000 Crore more over last years' deficit.  Government had failed in controlling its expenditure, which had jumped to 29 per cent against the target of 13.9 per cent. 

Another important aspect was that to meet its consumption needs the Government was borrowing large amounts of money. During April-December, 1998, it borrowed Rs. 54,617 Crores. In gross term it touched Rs. 80,543 Crores and was likely to cross Rs. 1,00,000 Crores next year. This implied that it had been borrowing over Rs.300 Crores every day -surely an unsustainable situation! How would it repay this debt? Which stood at 53.9 per cent of GDP? For every Rupee that the Government earned, it had to pay out 28 per cent as interest. Unfortunately, he added, no thought is given to the development aspects in the current budget.

The task before the organisers was therefore to:

1.          Undertake participatory studies at various levels of the impact on the poor and natural resources, following the implementation of big projects on rivers.

2.          Interact with various social action groups, working in this field. Such interaction could be achieved through consultations, seminars, workshops and the like.

3.          A network needs to be established of activities concerning rivers and river valleys leading to exchange of information and activities of the concerned river and river valleys.  This would concern extending support to each other on crucial issues.  These activities primarily utilised in English and Hindi. Different states can use the material in their own languages.

4.          This network should link up with other national forums to enable its voice to be heard at every level of lobbying and advocacy.

5.          The network should strive to achieve The Right to Information as a Fundamental Right in the country, especially when it came to the impact of public projects on the common people.

3.5.3, Jamshedpur Declaration: On the basis of these discussions The “Jamshedpur Declaration” was adopted. The following is the declaration adopted at the National Conference on River Valley and Water Resources held at Jamshedpur from 12th to 14th March'99.

3.5.3.1, The Indian Rivers Network takes off.

·         The Jamshedpur conference of activists working among people in various riversides and valleys decided to establish a National Network to oppose discriminatory development processes in their river basins.

·         Called the 'Indian River Network' this people’s forum will link up organisations in various rivers across India from West Bengal to Kerala and support the struggle of the common people against iniquitous development process within the Indian subcontinent.

·         For the last more than one decade, the common people of India like adivasis, dalits and women have been vociferously opposing Government's development policies and programmes. These, have displaced millions of people, polluted the rivers, lowered the groundwater table, divided communities, displaced the poor from their homes, hearths and lands, diminished their cultural ethos and expanded the base of the poverty stricken people.

·         We assert that the lands and waters of various rivers and their valleys and ground water resources are ours, the so far silenced majority; and the struggle is now to regain which properly belong to the community and was community property of the concerned villages.  The utilisation of these resources, which are a part of community resources, will have to be utilised according to the decisions/consensus of the concerned village community.  It cannot be utilised at the will and whim of politician bureaucracy - contractor – multi-national agency axis.

·         The current development processes of big public and private projects have only served to benefit of a small majority of elite upper class/caste. We oppose this misutilisation of the property and resources of the community, who form more than 70% of the population.

      The conference formed a small co-ordination committee to co-ordinate, campaign, and chart out programme and struggle.  These include -1, Ghanshyam – Jharkhand, 2. Rajendra Kerkar - Goa, 3. Advocate Serif  - Kerala, 4. Ms. Dayamani Barla – Jharkhand, 5. Arun Vinayak - Godavari Valley (Maharashtra). Kumar Kalanand Mani of Swaraj will be the co-ordinator of the network.

      After the Jamshedpur Conference, the Goda Mukti Andolan, a people’s organisations working in the Godavari Valley in Maharashtra decided to be associated with it.

3.5.4, Godavari Valley in Maharashtra

About seven years ago some activists working in districts along the Godavari Valley met at Puntamba in Ahmednagar District and discussed the issues of the poor in the Valley and as to what social action groups could do.

For the last five years activists from Ahmednagar and Aurangabad District have been working together and were searching for grouping of those working on issues of the poor in the Godavari Valley. The first action took till 1997 when on environmental issues, Godavari Bachao Andolan took up the issue of lifting of sand from the riverbed in Kopargaon, Shrirampur talukas in Ahmednagar District and Vaijapur taluka is Aurangabad District. They started an agitation against it. This agitation led to a wider contract in both the districts.

The other activity was the organisation of poor women in both the districts plus Jalna District. Two annual conferences of the Godavari Khore Mahila Sangarsh Samiti were organised in 1998 (Ahmednagar) and 1999 (Puntamba).

Soon after the March Conference which launched the Indian Rivers Network, some activists met in Pune in July under trying circumstances. Elections both to the Lok Sabha and the Maharashtra Assembly had been declared and all issues of the people were being by-passed.

Nevertheless, Manifesto of The Toiling People of The Godavari Valley in Marathi worked out and before the end of July the work of dissemination it to the common people, activists, media, political parties and candidates for elections in the Valley and elsewhere in Maharashtra and other places was taken up.

As a result activists reached the uncovered areas of the valley, such as those in Beed, Jalna and Parbhani Districts joined the Goda Mukti Andolan. New voluntary organisations, activists and people’s organisations received the Manifesto and responded. The media in some parts gave a full exposure and even the smallest of print media appeared to be eager. Some voluntary organisations came out to assist with small funding. Some activists undertook to spread the message and contact other organisations and individuals.

As a follow up, There was a meeting in Parbhani on the question of further activities in August 1999, where the activities in the near future were discussed. It was decided that in November 1999, there would be a wider consultation on the issues in Godavari Valley. In the meantime, activists in the Valley were to collect as much information and knowledge that they could. A letter has been written to the main activists, who were to collect and collate information available, which would be useful for compiling documentation on the situation in the Godavari Valley. The letter seeks their indulgence in going back to rural masses in the Valley. Collecting information directly from the people would mean returning to the base and finding the truth about human development or the lack of it from '‘the horses’ mouth’ rather than depending on official information. The latter according to the experience of voluntary action groups has not been updated since 1975. This would help in formulating a policy on the development issues in the region. Such a formulation would be undertaken art a wider consultation, proposed for December this year or January 2000. Those responsible for collecting and collating the Documentation, are being called for a meeting, sometime in October next. Here the framework for such documentation will be prepared. 

On September 3rd 1999, a meeting of social activists was called at Asha Kendra, Puntamba, in Tal: Kopargaon, Dist. Ahmednagar. A three-day training programme on Participatory Strategic Planning and the Logical Framework Analysis that follows was conducted. As a resource, Arun Vinayak, went there and after detailed and intense discussion, it appeared certain that the rural masses, near the riverbed, were concerned over the non-development and usurpation of common property resources in the region. More than 25 years ago the Government had drawn a flood line of the river, taking into consideration the intake of monsoon rain in the catchment area. Many projects, big and small have come into existence since then and waters in the Godavari River have been reduced. Waters have never reached anywhere near the flood line drawn up by the previous generation. However, no changes have been made since then and people in the villages on the banks of the river have been without infrastructure, education and other human development needs for a generation.

It was planned to expand the activity to Beed District. The election processes had started and the activists were to some extent involved the processes. However a meeting some important activists took place at Sindhfana in Patoda Taluka of Beed District on 12th September 1999. At the meeting it was revealed that the issues in the Godavari Valley, had already been taken up at the Gram Sabha level in about 50 villages in Patoda and Kaij Talukas of Beed District.

There is a peculiar situation in Beed District. In the ‘busy’ season after the Diwali Festival almost the villagers including the Sarpanch and Panchayat Members migrate in search of work to far off places in Western Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and even to Uttar Pradesh, mainly as sugarcane cutters. These sugarcane cutters have been organised into ‘unions’ by their Mukadams, who really are labour contractors of the sugarcane factories (in Maharashtra an overwhelming majority of the Sugar Factories are in the so-called co-operative sector). Following a number of training camps and TOTs (Training of Trainers) that have been undertaken in various places in the Valley for the last three years activists have begun to utilise the Constitution 73rd Amendment regarding Panchayat Raj Institutions for their own benefit. Currently, this is being used to get fair wages through the instrument of the Gram Sabha, where by resolutions, the sugar factories are being asked to pay fair wages to the sugarcane cutters. In some places this has been sought as direct payment to the Gram Panchayat wherever physically the Panchayat may be.

A follow up meeting with the villagers and Sirpanchas and members of the various Gram Panchayats is scheduled for 2nd, 3rd and 4th October 1999 in Sindhfana. An activist’ camp was been called at Jalna on 5th, 6th and 7th October 1999 for the villages in Jalna District. In Beed District the villages fall in Patoda and Kaij Talukas. In Jalana District they will be in Jalna and Ambad Talukas. The activists in Jalna District however, will also be giving contacts in the adjoining Gevrai and Majalgaon Talukas in Beed District.

The Manifesto of the Toiling people of the Godavari Valley in Maharashtra contained demands of the people in the valley. These included: -

3.5.4.1, WATER: There is an unequal treatment meted out to the people of the Godavari Valley, particularly to those toiling masses living in it. According to the White Paper on Water published by the Maharashtra Government in 1995, there is 38 million cubic metre of water for the 2.88 crore people living in the Godavari Valley and the people are entitled to get 1,609 cubic metre of water per person. However, the common people of the valley have a pitiable supply of water. If the Valley gets its normal monsoon any year, the problem of drinking water begins at the end of February and goes on till the middle of July. If the monsoon is bad, which it usually is, drinking water shortage begins by the end of December of the previous year. Succeeding Governments in Maharashtra have declared that ‘the next year’ will free the Valley from tankers bringing in drinking water for the villages. This has never happened, whichever the party/front in power.

3.5.4.2, COMMUNITY HEALTH: There are 2.88 crore people in the Godavari Valley according to the White Paper of the Maharashtra Government. Seventy per cent of these people are Dalits, Adivasi, Backward Classes and women. The proclamation that there would be HEALTH FOR ALL BY 2000 has proved to be eyewash in the Godavari Valley. Lack of sanitation, chronic drought in the region and overuse of water for irrigation resulting in salinity has resulted in reappearance of Malaria and Elephantiasis. Tuberculosis has affected a vast section of the toiling sections of society. Malnutrition, the bureaucratic euphemism for hunger is not confined the Melghat in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra alone. There are increasing cases of malnutrition among women and children in Nanded, Aurangabad, Ahmednagar districts of the Godavari Valley too. The Primary Health Centres, in the Valley, particularly those in the vicinity of the river, which are to cater to the poor, are ill equipped and ill managed.

Funds meant for development schemes meant to improve the quality of life of the poor and the downtrodden are not utilised by the Panchayat Raj Institutions, which are meant to enable the use of them. The male-dominated Rural Society is not concerned with the impact of adverse health conditions of women. Community Health Programmes, Women and Child Development Programmes and Dalit and Adivasi Development Programmes, thus stand neglected. This is the experience of almost all Panchayat Raj Institutions in the ten Districts that comprise the Godavari Valley.

3.5.4.3, EMPLOYMENT: The unemployment situation – both hidden and seen - in the Godavari Valley is worse than the situation elsewhere in Maharashtra. The advent of the New Economic Policy in 1991 has led to almost a standstill in increase of employment. As a result, in Aurangabad, where growth of industry is among the highest in Asia, there has been a JOBLESS GROWTH. In this drought-prone region, vast numbers of people, particularly the nomadic tribes, leave their homes in search of work for major part of the year, especially for work in areas where sugarcane, grape, cotton and plantains are grown. The plight this worker, men, women and children is well known yet nothing is done to improve their conditions. Bonded Labour and Child Labour abound.

This unemployment in the Godavari Valley can be eradicated if a co-relation was established with the water storage in the valley with employment oriented development paradigm. This will also have to take into consideration the self-determination and self-rule of the communities in the Valley, more particularly in the rural areas.

3.5.4.4, MIGRATION: Migration has become a ‘habit’ with the people in the Godavari Valley. This migration is the impact of the development processes and policies of the government. It takes place for three reasons:

1.          Traditional nomads migrate from place to place, remaining outside the boundaries of villages eking out a living through begging, entertaining and other means. Some of the women become sex workers. They appear to have no legal, fundamental and human rights. The women are often raped. They some how survive.

2.          Migration also takes place in search of work. Vast numbers from the Valley migrate in search of work. Large numbers migrate to places in Gujarat, Western Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh after the Diwali Festival, as sugarcane cutters near Cooperative or Private Sugar Mills. These workers have no more importance than the raw material (sugarcane) used by these mills.

3.          Educated unemployed migrate to urban conglomerations like Mumbai, Pune and Nashik in search of work and end up slums in the periphery of industries in these conglomerations.

The government must take responsibility in putting an end to migration of the toiling masses, in search work.

Measures should be adopted to settle them in their neighbourhood and improve their creditability so that they could become self-reliant in their own places or work in industries nearby.

 

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