Gholgagon/Nagpur: Twenty men and women, all farmers from Gholgagon village along the Narmada river in Madhya Pradesh, have been standing in waist-deep water for the last 27 days. Clean water would have caused damage, and this is stagnant dirty water that they are immersing themselves in daily for more than 12 hours. The skins of their feet are completely gone and are full of infected sores. Fungal infections which need months of treatment to cure.
“Our health condition is deteriorating, skin from the soles of our feet is peeling. This has made standing and walking very difficult,” says 63-year-old Sakku Bai, who’s been spending over 14 hours a day in the water, under temperatures of 40 degrees.
Around 400 farmers’ crop has been ruined, they say, after the government in April raised the water level of the Omkareshwar dam. These farmers decided to protest by standing on those flooded fields in a, “jal satyagraha.” This had happened more than a decade ago and they are still fighting to get adequate compensation for the loss of crops and substitute land.
400 farmers have lost their entire crop. Making the problem worse, they say, is that they had already spent that compensation – originally awarded in 2005-2006 — and to return part of it to the government, they had to borrow from moneylenders at interest rates as high as 40 percent. Now, they are still under debt and still have no land.
The farmers allege that they were initially compensated very insufficiently , but that they returned part of that compensation to the government in 2012. They were promised land in exchange, which they haven’t got. The farmers are also demanding lowering of water levels of the dam by two metres from 191 to 189.
More farmers — from the Narmada Bachao Andolan — have since joined this protest. Their feet, too, are beginning to show infections. “We are not going to end jal satyagraha till the state government gives in to our demands. The administration has now initiated talks with us, but the dead lock continues,” says Alok Agrawal, a protesting member of the Andolan.
The M.P. government says most of the affected farmers have been compensated. It adds that it has rehabilitated almost all of the 6,000 farmers — except around 400 — who returned that compensation. The government doesn’t want 400 farmers to hold it hostage.
“All Omkareshwar Dam oustees have either got compensation or land. These 213 farmers without even seeing the land refused to accept it as compensation. We have a land bank of 5000 hectare and are willing to give them a land of their choice,” said Rajnish Bais, Vice President of the Narmada Valley Developement Authority.
But the protests are growing and now protestors will be seen in Bhopal also.
Farmers of M.P. are very unhappy this year over two counts –
Last year, there was no damage to wheat from unseasonal rains and hailstorm. More important, the Madhya Pradesh (MP) government paid a Rs150 bonus over and above the Centre’s minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 1,400 per quintal.
For the 2014-15 crop currently being marketed, the Centre’s MSP has been raised marginally to Rs 1,450 per quintal, that is only Rs. 50/ per quintal, but there’s no bonus. One farmer complained that this year’s produce of about 150 quintals is nearly 100 quintals less than last year, which he attributes to the Uparwala (the almighty). “Nobody can anticipate what He has in mind. But the removal of bonus I cannot come to terms with,” says this farmer from Bishan Kheda, a village in Raisen district.