Manibelis woe

Published : Jan 15, 2010 00:00 IST

MANIBELI is no more. The hamlet that has been synonymous with the Narmada Bachao Andolans (NBA) struggle against the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) finally went down with the 1,000-year-old Shurpaneshwar temple in the dreaded backwater effect of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the night of July 16.

The Narmada rose rapidly causing flash floods that night, touching a height of 76.61 metres in a few hours, gobbling up 14 huts of Manibeli residents who have been fighting for adequate compensation.

The other Maharashtra villages that got submerged partially or completely are Dhankhedi, Chimalkhadi, Sinduri, Gaman, Bamani, Danel, Mukhadi and Mandava. In Gujarat, Vadgam, Shurpan, Mokhadi, Katkhedi, Gadher, Mankkadkhada, Dhumna, Antaras, Charbada and Ferkada were affected.

For over a week the catchment area of the dam and the river upstream of Badwani and Hoshangabad had heavy rains and the Maharashtra government had posted flood relief teams, doctors, police officials and administrative staff from the Forest and Irrigation Departments in these villages to rescue the people in case of flash floods. Temporary tin-sheds and tents were erected at 87 metres all along the river bank. Notices warning of flash floods were put up at regular intervals in all the tribal settlements. Announcements about the rising water level were made over megaphones.

The river itself looked ferocious, sweeping away cattle, timber and huts. Crossing over from Vadgam to Manibeli in a motor boat provided by the government to move its staff, one could feel the fear over the valley. Across the river there were no signs of the Shurpaneshwar temple and the 14 huts of Manibeli.

A stunned Narayan Tadvi, the village sarpanch, recounted the events of the previous night. The water level started rising around 11 p.m. and by midnight almost all houses had water at knee level. None of us moved out because we were still hoping that the water would stop and start receding soon. But then the police came and told us about the water level rising to 75 metres. Yet all of us had decided that we would not move out unless we were arrested. A 15-year-old girl, Mangi, chirped in: Yes, we were ready to drown ourselves and teach the government a lesson. The police then agreed to detain them and moved them out. Some had to be dragged out, according to a police officer in charge of the rescue operations. By 2 a.m. the village was submerged.

For these tribal people of Manibeli (Tadvis and Vasavas) in Akkalkuwa tehsil of Dhule district it has been a long war for the right to livelihood. Between 1983 and 1986, efforts to resettle them began. About 100-odd families were shifted to Parveta. The land offered to them as compensation was in an abysmal state and the monetary compensation was less than half of what was promised.

This is when the Narmada Dharangrasta Samiti (NDS) was formed as a subsidiary of the NBA to pursue their cases. The NDS also held dharnas and talks with the Narmada Control Authority to raise the issue of resettlement in Kevadia Colony.

It was during the Manibeli satyagraha (June 14-September 27, 1991) that the hamlet shot into fame. Daring the steadily rising waters, the first batch of the NBAs Samarpit Dal (drowing squad) sat in a dharna in the hut at the lowest level. The hut, Narmadai, was turned into the NBA headquarters in July 1991. On August 3, the Dhule district police raided Manibeli and arrested 63 people.

In March-April 1992, the first siege of Manibeli began. Hundreds of policemen swarmed the village. Apart from forcible evictions, a number of other atrocities took place in the village (Frontline, May 22, 1992).

During July-September, the second Manibeli satyagraha was held. Rains lashed the area and the water level began to rise below the hut of Bhulabhai in Vadgam where the satyagrahis sat. But they were unmoved.

In December, fresh eviction notices were served on the villages, which were challenged in the courts.

May-June 1993 saw what would be the final siege of Manibeli by the Maharashtra police. Only 14 families were left in Manibeli (there were 142 in 1985) and over 24 live in Vamipada in the upper reaches of Manibeli. Their demand for adequate compensation had not been met but they would not compromise. That was till that fateful Friday which saw the Narmadas fury consuming, among other things, the hut that stood as a symbol of the courage of the downtrodden of the country.

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