HANUMAN NAGAR: Nearly 2,000 residents of Hanuman Nagar, a tribal village in Maharashtra’s Palghar district, dread history repeating itself all over again after 36 years. In 1982, they were displaced for a dam construction on Surya river. Now, the bullet train project looms large on them even as several promises made by authorities remain unfulfilled. Hanuman Nagar falls on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train alignment.
Its inhabitants arrived here in 1982 from Saava, a fertile village on banks of Surya, some 30 km away. Interestingly, parts of Hanuman Nagar continue to be forest land in revenue record. Old-timers said they cannot be fooled again, especially when a majority of them are yet to get ownership rights of their lands. “The people still don’t have possession of land they were rehabilitated to, let aside other basic amenities. A dilapidated primary health centre has no doctor or nurse. There is a small school but till primary level only, and most of the students have to go kilometres away to study further,” said Sarpanch Bandu Moy Umbersada.
Despite repeated promises of better development and infrastructure facilities at a new place, villagers have unanimously rejected all proposals of authorities. So strong is the opposition to the project that women have taken upon themselves the responsibility to guard the village for stopping entry of survey teams. Once, a team tried to force its way in, but retreated on facing angry broom-wielding women. “They lied to us that time saying some share of water from Surya dam will be provided for irrigation and drinking. We don’t get a single drop.
There is a shortage of water here. Pregnant women and sick people are taken on motorbikes to hospitals, which are some 30-35 km away,” said Gulab Devi, a villager. Devi is unable to get a disability certificate for her speech- and hearing-impaired son since she doesn’t have residence proof as the land issue remains unsettled. Of late, enticement has been plenty. “They (district officials) ask if our children need computer education, a playground and also promise to build the temple of our local deity ‘Bagha’ on the hills. We told them that for nearly four decades together, we all survived and we will in future, but at no cost give away our land.
The authorities have breached our trust once. How can they even think that we will let them do this again?” said Sandeep Ahadi, a farmer. The distrust is understandable given that most farmers claim land provided to them was uneven and not fertile. “For 10-15 years, nothing grew on this land. We made all efforts to make it fertile and even. Displacement made us landless. Now from the last few years, we have started getting crop yields, and they want to displace us again. Are we being punished just because we are poor tribals?” asked Umbersada. Kaka Kalu Ram Dhodade, founder of the Bhumi Sena and Adivasi Ekta Parishad, who has been fighting for tribal rights for decades, is worried about development at the cost of dwindling forests, ravaged mountains and polluted rivers. “More and more indigenous people are being displaced. Nature is being killed.
This will have a long-term impact, and the country has already witnessed nature’s fury,” said the 85-year-old, who frequently visits Hanuman Nagar to hold meetings on the project. Even the second and third generation villagers have their own set of problems regarding education and employment. Many youngsters don’t have caste certificates in absence of their land status.
“Most of us have studied till Class 12 or graduation, but we don’t have caste certificate and end up working in factories. We could have got government jobs, had we been provided with caste certificates,” said Ramesh Ahadi, 25, who works as unskilled labour in a Palghar factory.
If that was not enough, the youths lament the absence of public transport connectivity which means they either travel on foot, or wait for some motorists to offer them lift to a nearby city some 25-30 km. “To top it all, there are questions about the future of our land now. Our election cards are made showing us as residents of other villages nearby. We have no amenities. But this land is all we have, and once this is gone, we will have nowhere to go,” said Ramesh Ahadi.