A bridge that divides,not unites people
The trend is familiar: Politicians once elected, go diametrically against the very policies they vouched for prior to elections. This persistent tendency makes the right to recall an urgent necessity in Indian political firmament.
The island of St Estevao has been a witness to this trend. Ever since the Panchayat elections were over and a new political permutation was in place at the village level, the crass and brazen behaviour of the elected have made the people reiterate this demand for the Right to Recall elected representatives.
The village has been an epicenter of acrimonious scenes during recent gram sabhas, where the Sarpanch has reportedly been accused of unruly behavior, even denying villagers their democratic right to voice their opinion at such a forum. In true democratic spirit, which we often trumpet about, where is the avenue for those that are denied their right to express their opinion at such public fora?
The fracas at the village level, centres around a bridge mooted by the government. Ironically, the bridge is perceived as a development activity, but villagers think otherwise. There’s even an unanimous resolution passed against building a bridge from Tolto to Dauji. This was even before the election results were declared. However, the new Sarpanch, after being elected to power, went live on TV declaring that the construction of the bridge was his dream —- exactly the opposite position compared to people’s aspiration. This infuriated the people, who attended the gram sabha in large numbers and amid acrimonious scenes, protested the Sarpanch’s personal ambition.
Few people, including a local priest, was disallowed to speak during the gram sabha, arguing that the latter was not a villager. Following abrupt adjournment, the priest attended the next gram sabha armed with the voter’s list featuring his name and demanded an apology for him being denied the right to speak on the previous occasion. This reflects poorly on our quality of democracy. In the melee of demand for apology, which was obviously ignored, the gram sabha ended with booing on either side, reducing the democratic exercise to a joke.
It is anybody’s guess that it is the duty of the elected representatives to remove doubts and misgivings in the minds of the people, and build a consensus for the entire village. Instead of blaming each other, an atmosphere of trust and rational deliberations, assessing the pros and cons of having the bridge should be created.
Some two years ago, villagers rose in an unprecedented uprising after nearly 50 sand trucks used to line up in the tiny village in a bid to exploit the island for sand mining. The frequent sand transportation, not only triggered chaos, traffic jams and accidents, but it went on despite people’s objections and police complaints. Villagers have been witness to frequent agitations and morchas over the issue, with the Collector even ordering a ban on sand transportation in a section of the village.
However, Akhada residents — the beneficiaries of the sand mining — challenged the order in High Court, which only resulted in the court upholding the Collector’s order. Thus, the proposal for the Bridge is being seen as more beneficial to Akhada residents than to those from the St. Estevao. Evidently, now if the bridge becomes a reality, the people not only fear the traffic chaos revisiting them, but it would also means road widening, which would imply acquisition of private properties and eventual rendering the court order infructuous. This can mean a possible revival of sand mining and the consequent associated menace for villagers.
There is little doubt that those crying for the bridge are not just the sand mining lobby, but also realtors, who aspire to cash in on quick profits, once the bridge is a reality. At least one Mumbai-based realtor reportedly has some 13,000 sq m of land at stake. This is why the people are worried, that the powers that be are seeking to silence their fears.
Here is a case for the District Administration and the Political leadership of the State to ascertain the genuine fears and address them reasonably. If the issue is allowed to fester for long, it may get out of hand for saner elements to play a reasonable role and have every section’s interest protected.