Batti Gul: Villagers live without water, electricity 100 meters away from Goregaon college
Despite living inside the well-provisioned veterinary college in Goregaon, these villagers are starved for electricity and water and now face the threat of eviction
The tribals light their way with a torch, as the streetlights stop working just 100 metres outside their village. Pics/Satej Shinde
Even animals have it better than the tribal residents inside the Bombay Veterinary College campus in Goregaon. "We've been living here for four generations; the college only came up in 1978. Now, the animals in the college get electricity and water, but we are deprived of these basic facilities," said Rakesh Shigvan, 39.
This is hardly some remote village - the 65 families living in the tribal hamlets of Navshacha pada and Jitunika pada are just half a kilometre away from the Western Express Highway, nearly at the mouth of the 135-acre college campus. Infuriatingly, there's plenty of water and power to be had just 100 metres from their homes, but none of it is for them. When they need to wash clothes, the villagers go to the nearby cowsheds, and when they need electricity, they're forced to steal it from the college transformer.
Laxmi Nimale and the other villagers are forced to pilfer electricity and water from the college facilities
"We held several protests and met various officials, right up to the chief minister, to no avail. We are being deliberately deprived of our basic needs, so that we vacate the village and make the campus tribal-free," alleged Shigvan.
Rajesh Umbarsade, 26, recounted the struggles they faced just to get permission to bring mobile toilets inside the campus. "We had to stage a protest before we were allowed to bring the plastic toilets inside the campus. Now one can imagine that if we are not even allowed to bring readymade toilets to our village, how can we be get electricity?"
Only village is dark
mid-day visited the campus and found that while the road leading to the village has electricity poles, they are not in a working condition. Just 100 metres ahead, though, the girls' hostel and college staff quarters have working poles. It's the same story with water supply; Laxmi Nimale, 50, said that due to lack of water in their village, the women are often forced to wash their clothes at a cowshed that's just 100 m away.
The lack of electricity is also a major security hazard in this area, where encouters with leopards are not uncommon. "Due to our proximity to the Aarey forest, our village is constantly under threat from wild animals. The area is pitch dark after sunset, and due to lack of water, we are forced to answer nature's call in the open, at the risk of leopard attacks," said Deepak Mingle, 31.
One of the younger villagers, Mahesh Vanjari, 15, added, "Even though we want to play in the evening, we have to go indoors after sunset, as there is no electricity and we don't want to put our lives at risk. We also have finish studying before it gets dark."
The villagers said that none of the promises made by politicians have been fulfilled. Eight years ago, Ravindra Waikar, Minister of State for Housing and Higher Education, had performed bhoomi poojan at five locations in the village for borewells. Several coconuts were broken and sweets were distributed, but no borewell came up.
Minister Waikar told mid-day, "The National Green Tribunal has not given NOC to these padas. This matter is before the Tribunal, and once it gets cleared, we will provide the facilities. We have also presented a proposal to the government to relocate all the padas of Aarey to one location and provide them with 480-sq-ft apartments."
Shigvan added, "We recently applied to Reliance for electricity connection, but they need an NOC from the college, and the institute categorically refused. We feel trapped. The situation has forced us to take the illegal route and steal electricity from the college's transformer installed near the village. The authorities do not even bother to even put up street lights near our village so that we can feel safe."
The other side
P L Dhande, associate dean of Bombay Veterinary College, said, "Providing water, electricity and other facilities to the village is the government's responsibility." When asked about rumours that the tribals were being pushed out of the campus, he said, "It is the government's prerogative to relocate the villagers. The college development also gets hampered due to these residents."
CEO of Aarey Milk Colony ND Rathod told that these padas do not fall under Aarey jurisdiction, so providing facilities to them is not thier responsibility.
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