Over 20,000 people living along the Goi river in Barwani district have been cut off as backwater from the Ralawati dam has flooded pathways between villages.
The Ralawati dam was constructed across the Goi river, a tributary of Narmada, in 2006-07 to irrigate about 1,800 hectare land of tribal people in southern and western Madhya Pradesh. But its backwaters have wreaked havoc on unpaved pathways connecting the villages in the area.
Villagers say they not only lost their land, but snapped connectivity has doubled or even tripled the distance they needed to cover between towns. Particularly affected is the Dhanora village, which has effectively been cut off from neighbouring villages, including Wakya, Mohala, Lakdiomri, Jhirpadiya, Amliya, Gulariyapani and Kunjiya.
“We raised our grievances at various forums, but in vain,” said Veer Singh, a 45-year-old farmer in Lakdiomri.
In the absence of support from the administration, the villagers have been forced to throw caution to the wind and use a makeshift dingy to cover around 170m at Rs 5 per trip.
“We prepared a temporary boat ourselves using four rubber tubes and wooden planks to resolve our problem. The boat is tied at both ends and we have to pull a rope to cross the backwater,” Singh added.
The situation has also had repercussions for schoolchildren because Dhanora is the only village in the area with a school that offers education up to Class 12.
“Due to the high risk (in crossing the backwaters), many students have either left studies or their homes to study in Dhanora, by taking houses on rent. During the rainy season, many students remain absent,” said Mukesh More, in-charge principal of the government higher secondary school in Dhanora.
BJP leader and businessman Suresh Garg said businesses too were suffering as a consequence. Attendance on important sale days such as ‘Haat Day’, or rural market day held every Wednesday, have witnessed a downward trend as fewer people are willing to risk visiting the inundated area.
When contacted, sitting MLA and state cabinet minister Anter Singh Arya, who was pivotal in the construction of the Ralawati dam, said he was aware of the problems of the villagers. He said the collector will be directed to send a proper boat for the villagers to use until the construction of a bridge is sanctioned by the government.