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In Maharashtra’s first village, people live without power, roads or mobile networks

Vasant Bija Vasave’s is first name on the state's electoral list, but his village, Manibeli, has no roads or connectivity.

india Updated: Apr 27, 2019 02:37 IST
Surendra P Gangan
Surendra P Gangan
Maharashtra’s electoral list,Bavipada hamlet,Manibeli village
Vasant Bija Vasave’s is first name on the state's electoral list, but his village, Manibeli, has no roads or connectivity. (Pratik Chorge/HT)

Meet Vasant Bija Vasave, whose name is the first one on Maharashtra’s electoral list. He lives at Bavipada hamlet in Manibeli village, which is just 15 kilometres away from the colossal Statue of Unity. Manibeli is the first village in the Akkalkuwa assembly segment, which is listed as first among 288 assembly constituencies. Akkalkuwa comes under Nandurbar Lok Sabha constituency, which comes first in Maharashtra’s list of 48 Lok Sabha constituencies.

Yet for all these firsts, residents of Manibeli have neither health services nor gas connections, and the post doesn’t come here. “We have no electricity and batteries of solar lamps given in 2008 don’t work anymore,” said his wife Sangeeta. For everything from grinding wheat or taking his children to school, Vasave has to take a small boat, which is not always available. However, they have arranged for one on Monday because Vasave and Sangeeta want to cast their vote. “We have not decided whom to vote for,” said Vasave, “but there is anger in the villages over the government’s decisions.”

Bavipada is one of seven hamlets on seven hills that now resemble islands as wa- ter levels have risen because of the Sardar Sarovar dam. “For general communication, we shout out to houses on the next hilltop. The message is passed from hamlet to hamlet to the desired location,” said Dinesh Vasave. Election machinery uses runners, who on polling days run to isolated points that receive mobile network, to report voting percentages to headquarters.

Vasant Vasave has had to relocate his family thrice to upper locations because of rising water levels.

The last relocation was in 2007, when he moved approximately 180 metres above land level. The shifting and construction of houses is done at the villagers’ expense. “After finding a comparatively flat plot, we collect the material required for building house. With all villagers extending helping hands, we complete the house in just one day,” said Dinesh.

Natwarbhai Tadvi, 62, a resident of Manibelipada, has relocated five times since 1993. “After the height of the dam was increased a few years ago, the risk of our village going under water has again surfaced. We have been given land in Gujarat, but we cannot shift there as its not cultivable,” he said. Tadvi and his family own 15 acres where they grow grains like jowar and bajra. “After keeping the food grains for our annual consumption, we sell the remaining in the market to meet other expenses,” said Tadvi’s son Arvind.

Besides fishing and jobs like construction labour at the tehsil level, the villagers have no other means of earning. For the administrative work, they make arduous, two-day treks to Akkalkuwa. “We wake up at 4am, walk for six kilometres km to catch a vehicle from Jankati village to reach Molagi, and then take a state transport bus to Akkalkuwa, which is 60km away. You can’t come home the same day,” said Arvind. When Manilal Tadvi, 70, fell and broke his hand, Arvind had to take him to Gardeshwar, about 60km away, to the nearest bonesetter. It took them two days to return home after the treatment.

“The government talks about 100% electrification of villages and gas cylinders under Ujwala Yojana, but these villagers are not aware of any such facilities. They have no electricity, the villages have no roads to transport material. Since the hamlets are submerged, the state administration points to technical grounds for not providing the basic amenities,” said activist Latika Rajput. She says the floating clinics inaugurated by the state government two years ago were of no use because of lack of manpower and uncertainty in their services.

Nandurbar’s legislator is Bharatiya Janata Party’s Vijaykumar Gavit, father of the member of Parliament (MP) from Nandurbar, Heena Gavit. He admitted that like Manibeli, other tribal villages are deprived of basic amenities. He said, “It is true that some of the hamlets are still deprived of the schemes for electricity and cooking gas due to the technical reasons. In some villages the laying of poles for electricity is too difficult. As for the cooking gas, we have distributed more than 1.5 lakh units are covering remaining very soon.” Vasave knows Heena Gavit’s name even though Bavipada hasn’t featured on her campaign trail. “She has never visited us in last five years,” said Vasave.

Balaji Manjule, collector of Nandurbar, said, “We are aware of the problems being faced by the villagers and are chalking out a plan by which they [villagers] can get all the facilities including education and health at one place. Once the elections are over, I am personally visiting these hamlets to study their livelihood and the issues they face.”

“Many of the displaced families are still to get the land they lost more than three decades after the project was envisaged. The administration is apathetic towards the villagers,” said Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan.

First Published: Apr 27, 2019 02:36 IST