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Despair of the displaced

Print edition : Jan 02, 2004 T+T-

The displaced families complain that the land in the rehabilitation centres is not fit for cultivation and that the government has not been able to provide them an alternative livelihood.

PROJECT SEABIRD has, by and large, overcome its initial setbacks, but many of the families that lost their land and/or livelihood as a result of the building of the naval base are yet to find their feet.

According to revenue records, 4,111 families, including 3,315 engaged in farming on less than one acre of own land and 856 of fisherfolk, living in 12 villages have been affected by the project. However, Prabhakar Rane, a former Karnataka Minister who is honorary president of the Seabird Naval Base and Konkan Railway Evacuees Forum, disputes the figure. He says there are more than 10,000 project-displaced families, comprising around 40,000 people.

The 11-year delay between the final land acquisition notification in 1989 and the actual shifting of people from the project site added to the problems associated with rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R). During this period of uncertainty, families expanded and land prices climbed. The displaced families were unhappy with the R&R package that the Karnataka government offered initially. In 1989, many of them approached the Karnataka High Court, which forbade the evacuation of people until "proper rehabilitation measures" were undertaken.

In August 1998, the Defence Ministry and the State government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on a Rs.126-crore rehabilitation package, and the court allowed the project to proceed. Under the package, the head of every displaced family received Rs.50,000 and a house site in one of the newly created rehabilitation centres (RCs), while two adult sons and one unmarried daughter above the age of 35 got Rs.70,000. (The site was in addition to the compensation plus 30 per cent solatium and 12 per cent interest received for the extent of land lost.) Seven RCs were created - at Chittakula, Amadalli and Harwada for fishermen and at Todur, Hattikeri, Belekeri and Mudageri for agriculturists.

The displaced families want the R&R package to be extended to all sons and a maintenance allowance for the 12 years that they remained without their lands and jobs. The families are unhappy with the RCs, most of which do not have proper roads and a regular water supply system. Most important, the families want the State government to provide an alternative livelihood, which even government officials agree they have not been able to do. The few government-sponsored employment generation schemes (like carpentry, poultry and mushroom farming) have not found favour with the displaced people. They hope the government or the Navy will provide them with jobs as security guards, drivers or secretaries.

Said Nagubeechu Gowda, whose family lost land in NK Bail, Berede and Bavekeri villages and has now been rehabilitated at the Belekeri RC: "Earlier we cultivated paddy and even cash crops like coconut, groundnut and cashew, but here the land is not fertile, we cannot cultivate anything. There is no water either for drinking or for irrigation. Many of the wells have dried up." Added Sukri Gowda, a farmhand who has also been rehabilitated at the Belekeri RC: "There is hardly any agricultural activity close to the RC. We cannot even collect firewood because the Navy has taken over most of the forest areas."

At the Mudageri RC, the government spent Rs.1 crore in 1989 and has so far distributed 482 sites. Only seven families have moved in so far. The families contend that Mudageri is too far (18 km) from Karwar and lacks employment opportunities. The situation is not very different at the Todur RC. As many as 873 sites have been distributed, but only 202 families have moved in. So too at the Harwada RC, where 263 sites were distributed but only 129 families have moved in. Said Summane Gowda of the Todur RC: "We were living at Kodar near Chendia. There we were able to grow groundnut and tur dal, here we cannot grow anything. There is no water, no farmhands... Most of the money we got as rehabilitation was used up in building our houses. We have no money left and no livelihood."

The fishing community has also been badly hit. Traditional fishing is not possible in the new areas where the families have been resettled. Besides, there is greater competition on a smaller stretch of the coast. The government has been advising them to switch to mud-crab rearing, oyster farming and so on. Said Satish Durgekar of the Amadalli RC: "There are no facilities for fishing here. Many of us have not gone fishing for five years. Our boats, which cost Rs.30,000, are lying unused. People like us have been forced to work as coolies." The waters off the RC are not deep enough to allow the use of fishing nets.

Initially the government did moot the idea of building two fishing harbours at Amadalli and Majali. Later it was decided that a harbour would be built only at Amadalli. But differences of opinion on whether the State government should build the port or whether the Navy should be given the responsibility has left the project in limbo. The Navy has handed over Rs.10 crores to the State government for the construction of the harbour.

While it is true that all displaced families got a plot of land (varying between 30x40 feet and 60x90 feet) in the RCs, the fact that it was not linked to the actual extent of land lost has caused consternation among families that had large land holdings. A person with 10 acres (four hectares) but with no sons received only Rs.50,000. A person who lost a fraction of an acre but had two adult sons received Rs.50,000 and a site, while each of his sons got Rs.70,000.

According to revenue officials who were part of the R&R exercise, the package was illogical on many counts but was pushed through on the insistence of local community leaders. Said an official: "For example, a fisherman and an agriculturist who lost five acres each were viewed similarly. The extent of land has a direct bearing on the agriculturist, not on the fisherman. Both were given one plot of similar size. Today many agricultural families are unhappy."

The Navy may be funding the technical training expenses of one student from each of the displaced families, but the fact that there are not enough jobs even after they finish the course is hurting. Many evacuees have approached the Karnataka High Court seeking a higher compensation for the land they have lost and around 15 have had their appeals upheld. Said Rane: "We want the State government to set up lok adalats, which will decide the enhanced compensation. The government has promised to set up these lok adalats, but nothing has happened so far." The government's stand is that it has done what it could. Said an official: "Compensation is a right. Rehabilitation is not a right, it is a grant. And we have done all we could for the displaced families."

The Navy's view is that once Project Seabird is commissioned, employment opportunities will abound. Said Rear Admiral Mohan Rao, Director-General, Project Seabird: "When we need people (post-commissioning) priority will be given to the displaced families and the local people, provided of course they meet the requirements. Most important, the base will mean that Karnataka will now get a naval recruitment centre. Over 100 sailors from this region joined the Navy in the recent past. We have also asked the Central government to reserve six or seven places in each (sailor) course for children from the displaced families, provided they meet the requirements."

He added: "Also, the fact that the Navy has the largest indigenous component among the three defence services means that local carpenters, electricians, plumbers and welders will have ample opportunities to work directly for the Navy, since we are shortly going to recruit 2,000 civilian staff, and also as vendors taking up contract jobs and supplying equipment."

Added Commodore S. Sridhar Karnik, Commander, Project Seabird: "Once the base comes up there will be a number of day-to-day requirements such as groceries, dairy products and stationery. This will have to be purchased locally. Seabird, with its population of around 12,000, will do for Karwar what the naval base did for Visakhapatnam."