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To vote or not to vote

india Updated: Apr 30, 2007 14:55 IST
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The mammoth and the magnificent Rihand dam is the specimen for energy efficiency in Uttar Pradesh, adding 120 lakh units of electricity each day to the power-starved State's grid.

For the 1200-odd families of Baraitand and Parni villages, however, Rihand is a sorry testimony to a pledge betrayed. A graveyard of promises.

They are the people who moved out to make way for the ambitious power project way back in the 1960s. Decades later, they live in abject darkness, as the electricity generated by the Rihand plants is consumed elsewhere in cities like Delhi and Goa.

While construction of reservoirs of the Rihand dam saw many acres of their land submerging under water, the displaced families were made to settle in a barren land, with an unyielding hilly earth. Years later, most of these villagers have been reduced to subsistence living.

Sixty-year-old Chandru Bihari, an erstwhile farmer turned casual labourer before he stopped working last year, at Baraitand, says his family had never had to go hungry, thanks to the seven acres of fertile land that his father owned.

Today, the tables have been turned. His three sons visit Renukoot everyday to earn a living as menial workers. And, the dinner menu depends on what they manage to fetch in blistering heat.

“Rivulets crisscrossing their landscape around the villages used to supply enough water to produce three crops every year, while the forests gave us provide ample sustenance with their leaves and myriad fruits,” Jamuna Ghasia, a villager, recalls the good old days.

The villagers also had to face multiple displacements because of coal mining and the establishment of a thermal power plant. Then, the Government periodic declaration on forestland also ensures many more getting homeless.

Election holds little significance to this village of over 3000 voters. “Last time, we had not voted, hoping that this would perhaps let the rulers know our plight.

In fact, the one man who dared to defy the collective decision, and voted was beaten black and blue,” recalls Lalgi Gupta, a man from neighbouring Parni village that has an identical story to grapple with.

The vote boycott, however, failed to help them, as the politicians were not actually bothered. “ If elections and politicians helped us would we be like this?” Gupta asks incredulously.

“ From acres of well-irrigated three-crop farmland, which was our home, we have been forced here, a barren dusty bowl of a land. They promised us a dream and delivered a nightmare,” he rues.

But, the desperate times are back again with elections round the corner, and the villagers are yet to decide—should they vote or not.

The pressure build up has finally seen the Local MLA Vijay Singh Gaur ensuring inclusion of their area in the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Electrification Programme. Gaur, who recently visited them promised to electrify their villages by 2009 — a good 49-years after they were evacuated from their homes to let the NTPC set a foot Myorpur.

“ I don’t have a magic wand. I have ensured approval of plans that would see setting up of two electric substations in Myorpur. They will have electricity in their homes. Wait for some more time, “ Gaur said.

This should not be a problem. These people know how to wait silently.