The Hursgundagi villagers continue to live along the banks of the Sonthi Barrage, in spite of being provided with compensation to build houses in a new village.
By Yashasvini Razdan
Kantappa Pujari spends his afternoons in the courtyard of the Hursgundagi village temple where he talks about how he married off his sons with the compensation money given to him 8-9 years ago. He wasn’t sure about the year when he received the money but he was glad that he was also able to pay off his debts with the money.
The compensation was given to him in exchange of his five-bedroom house which had been acquired by the Krishna Bhagya Jal Nigam Limited (KBJNL) for the Sonthi Barrage across River Bhima. His house has been earmarked as the ‘area submerged’ in the official records. He never built a new house and continues to live in the same house even after being provided compensation to be resettled in an area which is 3.5 kilometres away from the reservoir. During the monsoon when the reservoir floods the village, his family, like many other villagers, take their valuable items and move to the new area. They return only when the water recedes leaving behind a trail of destruction and disease.
Dilapidated houses and muddy roads filled with potholes and stagnant water are a common sight in Hursgundagi.
In August 2019, Maharashtra released 4.20 lakh cusecs of water from Ujjani dam into the Bhima river. The houses of the villagers of Hursgundagi who live near the reservoir were submerged in water. Ushain Basha, a farmer whose house is situated near the banks of the reservoir told The Softcopy that his house was completely inundated by the water from the reservoir and he hadn’t received any flood relief compensation from the government.
Mr. Shivaji, the executive engineer at KBJNL, SLI division, Khanapur camp who is the in-charge of the Sonthi Lift Irrigation Scheme said that the villagers wouldn’t receive the flood relief compensation. “The villagers have been provided land in the Rehabilitation Centre (RC) and are expected to relocate to that area. They were given money to build houses in 2013. The land that got flooded in August 2019 has already been acquired by the government. The villagers are illegally living there,” he said.
Ushain and Kantappa are among the 967 people in Hursgundagi who received compensation in 2013 in exchange for 1,660 acres and 20 guntas of land which has been acquired by KBJNL. In spite of the fact that these people have to be relocated to a new site, they continue to live in the old Hursgundagi village.
Nirmala, a resident of Hursgundagi, describes the taste of the drinking water as a harshly sour like vinegar. She said that this was the only water they got and they utilized it for every activity. “When the reservoir overflows, the houses get flooded and all our household items get ruined in the floods. Due to this, there aren’t any concrete roads or fixed drinking water supply,” she added.
The roads are old and broken down with potholes. There are puddles of water which are the breeding ground for many mosquitoes. There are flies everywhere and a foul stench emanates from these puddles. Nirmala said that the water tastes like this everywhere. “We have no option but to drink it. There is no purification system available. Everyone drinks this water. We have a high occurrence of cholera cases but now we are used to it.”
The number of registered cholera cases in Shahapur Government Hospital is 884 from July 1, 2019, to September 28, 2019. Apart from that, there were many registered cases of vomiting, fever, and diarrhea during the months of the flood.
Dr. J.S. Uppin, the Medical Officer said, “Shahapur witnesses an increase in cholera cases during the summer and monsoon due to lack of clean drinking water. The severe cases from Hursgundagi get treated here. The rest usually go to the Sirwar Primary Health Centre (PHC).”
Sanganna, a former Junior Heath Assistant in the Sirwar PHC said, “Usually we received 3-4 cases of Cholera everyday from Hursgundagi but during the floods, the number rose up to 50-60.”
Siddhan Gowda, a farmer who has permanently relocated to the new Hursgundagi village said that he gave away 50 acres of his land to the government and received a compensation of Rs. 3 crores. He used it to build a house in the new village.
He said, “The rehabilitation centre in the new village which is spread over 100 acres wasn’t developed in 2011-13 when the compensation was given to all the farmers. There was no provision of purified drinking water and no schools had been built. Most of the farmers in the old village haven’t used the compensation money to build houses.”
The rehabilitation centre, which was developed a few years after the compensation was given out to the Hursgundagi residents, has been equipped with three water purifiers. The entire structure is surrounded by thorny bushes making the area inaccessible like Sleeping Beauty’s castle. To add to the difficulty in accessing the area, a drain runs around the purification system. A person has to climb down a slope, jump over the drain only to land in the thorny bushes to access the water purification system which hasn’t been used once since its installation, three years ago.
Contrary to this, Mr. Badiger, the revenue inspector, Narayanapur, who held the details regarding the Rehabilitation Centre, said that the procedure to build the rehabilitation centre was started in 2006-07. “Four hundred families had been rehabilitated to the new village and the rehabilitation centre is fully functional. The construction of aanganwadis, government offices, the school, and panchayat office was started in 2013 and has been completed,” he said.
The village school and aanganwadi in the rehabilitation centre are still closed. The villagers go to the Sirwar PHC and the Shahapur taluk hospital for treatment as there is no PHC or medical clinic in the area.
In spite of having the Sugnaneshwara Hydel Power Plant Pvt. Ltd three kilometres away, The villagers of Hursgundagi still have no access to electricity. Nirmala said, “Even though there is a hydel power-plant nearby, we don’t have a continuous electric power supply. There is no such provision even in the new village.”
Mr. Somshekhara Sahu, an electrical engineer at the Suganeshwara Hydel Power Plant said that while the hydel power plant is owned and controlled by a private facility, the barrage was built by the government. “We sell the power generated to the government. It is the government that decides to whom the power must be distributed.”
Mr. Somshekhara added that since the people had not been evacuated from the village, the efficiency and power output of the plant was comparatively low. “The height up to which water can be stored in the reservoir is eight meters. Currently, we are storing water up to a height of four meters. If we increase the water level, the power output will increase but the entire Hursgundagi village will get submerged.
“The government is responsible for evacuating people from the sides of the river bank. Till then, we cannot increase the water level. We have three generators, each of which has the capacity to generate 13.5 MW of power. Right now, the ratio of the output power to the input power is 1/3. This means that the efficiency of this hydel power plant is only 33 percent which can be increased if we raise the height of the water in the reservoir.”
Mr. Shivaji agreed that the power output in the hydel power plant had been suffering. “We can’t raise the level of the water because then the entire village will be submerged. Due to this our power output is low. We aren’t forcing the villagers. They are living there peacefully. They keep on asking for more compensation to build a house in the rehabilitation centre. When the compensation was provided, they squandered it away and now they want more. They need to be removed.”
The delay in building the rehabilitation centre does not explain why the villagers did not spend the compensation money to build houses. Siddhan Gowda explained that the cost of construction was more in the new area and the compensation amount provided to the villagers was less than the required sum.
“The soil is loose and clayey if you dig below. To make a solid foundation, we will have to dig further below the average depth which will cost more. The villagers got a compensation amount based on the size and cost of construction of their houses and land in the old village. For construction in the new village, they required more money. So instead of using that money for building new houses, they spent it on personal expenses and to repay old debts,” he said.
Mr. Shivaji said, “The minimum amount that needs to be given for construction of a house should be Rs. 5 lakhs.” The compensation amount handed out to the farmers was a sum of 50 percent of the estimated cost of the structure and the cost of the total area at the rate of Rs 5 per square metre of land. The total compensation amount in some cases was as low as Rs 78,991 for a structure spread over an area of 111.52 square metres.
Mr. Ramesh G., a public policy professor at IIM Bengaluru said that the conflict had arisen because of an improper resolution concerning the finances. “There are two aspects to this problem – the economic issue and social issue. The social issue concerns the attachment to the land the people where the people live currently. They wouldn’t want to leave it. The economic issue is the compensation amount which the villagers consider as less.
“The first one can easily be resolved through dialogue with the villagers and assure them of a better life in the new village by ensuring that the education and health facilities are in place. The government could have given them houses instead of cash which is compensation in kind to resolve the second issue. It could also have created jobs out of making the houses and asked them to stay there,” he said.
While the ownership of land remains a question for the Hursgundagi villagers, the livelihood of the farmers continues to suffer. The annual floods destroy the crop fields. Dr. Dayanand Satihal, Senior Farm Superintendent at the research farm in the College of Agricultural Sciences, Bhimrayanagudi, offered solutions to resolve the crisis surrounding the livelihood of the farmers. He said that the only way to increase production is to go for intensive cultivation.
“The farmers need to have an integrated farming system. Farmers in rain-fed areas should rear goats and other mulching animals like cows. In a part of the field, the farmers can create a small pond and rear fish like catla and rohu. The water in the pond can be used for irrigation activities as well. `They need to employ intelligent practices of farming,” he added.
Mr. Ramesh G highlighted the role of non-governmental organisations in such situations. “The government needs to put in money to ensure that these people build new houses but at the same time, there should be a check on how they spend this money. This is where NGOs come in to play and act as a mediator between the government and the people,” he explained.
He said that relocating an entire village is a mammoth task wherein many forces come into play. “We are not just relocating them, we are changing their entire ecosystem. For that we need to ensure them that they will have all the facilities in the new location and that they won’t face any hurdles in starting a new life there,” he added.
For Kantappa Pujari, life does not change as he continues to sit in the temple’s courtyard waiting for the next monsoon, hoping that the next time the flooding wouldn’t be as severe. “What can we do, apart from shifting temporarily to some other spot. This is how it has been and we have adapted to this life,” he said, as he stood up to head back home.