For Arun Patil, a farmer in Pen’s Daware village, the Hetawane dam is the answer to his prayers. He always wanted to harvest multiple crops and the dam will make it possible. But there’s a problem.
The Maharashtra government has announced his land would be acquired for the Reliance group’s 10,000-hectare Mumbai Special Economic Zone (MSEZ).
Daware and 21 other villages, 70 km south of Mumbai, make up almost half the area under the dam’s command area of 6,056 hectares. “The water will reach my farm only if the government completes the canal,” Patil said. He’s looking forward to Sunday’s referendum, when 22 villages will decide if the land should be acquired.
“We must vote out the SEZ, to force the government to speed up canal work,” Patil said. The administration would make a recommendation to the government based on the outcome of the referendum. “The state will take the final decision,” Raigad District Collector Nipun Vinayak said.
A senior irrigation officer told HT that the dam would transform farmers’ lives. According to official data, only four per cent of the dam work is left and the canals would be completed by year-end.
“About 31,000 million cubic meters (TMC) of the dam’s 137 TMC capacity has been reserved for irrigation,” the officer said. MSEZ is to get over 12 TMC for five years. Anti-SEZ activists fear it’ll get a larger share once the land is acquired. “The intentions of the government and Reliance are suspect,” said Harishchandra Patil, a farmer from Kane village.
Senior journalist SM Deshmukh said one of the main canals — Shirki — passes through the proposed SEZ. “The Irrigation Department has spent over Rs 46 crore on the canals. All this will be wasted, if villagers are forced to surrender their land.”
Meanwhile, Vinayak refuted Reliance’s claim in court that the referendum was illegal. “It’s government policy and part of the land acquisition procedure,” he said.