05 Nov 2023  |   06:57am IST

A barrage of problems

The villagers of Verem-Vagurme are up in arms against the ambitious Rs 3.75 crore Shitolem Lake Development Project in the village inviting strong protests. The project is part of the Rs 100 crore Murdi-Khandepar drinking water bandhara project on the Opa River. The government is claiming that the project is to provide drinking water and irrigation for Verem-Vagurme village and other surrounding areas. But the villagers are not convinced. They even staged protests during the recently held gram sabha against the project, claiming that they were completely kept in the dark and they didn’t know who will benefit from it. SANTOSH NAIK does a reality check on the issue to find out the exact nature of the problem and the road ahead
A barrage of problems

It is a fact that Verem-Vagurme, Savoi Verem and Querim villages and other surrounding areas in Priol constituency faces acute water shortage during summer and depends on tankers for water supply. The villagers too admit that they face water crisis in summer and need improvement in water supply. 

But on the other hand, the villagers are up in arms against the ambitious Rs 3.75 crore Shitolem Lake Development Project in the village, staging strong protests against the project during the recently held gram sabha, claiming that they were completely kept in the dark and didn’t know who would benefit from it.

The villagers fear that it might benefit a steel plant or the mega residential complex which they fear would come up in future at Bhutkhamb plateau and deprive them traditional source of water from Shitolem lake. Some locals have also opposed concretisation of retaining walls for the Shitolem Lake. 

Very few villagers have supported the Shitolem lake development project, but on the condition that its water should be solely for villagers and that the project be discussed with them before starting the work.

The Water Resources Department (WRD) officials are of the opinion that water scarcity will be a thing of the past after commissioning of the project and claimed that it would provide villagers water 24x7 due to improvement in storage capacity, since the project is planned for drinking and irrigation purpose only. 

The local MLA and Art and Culture Minister Govind Gaude too claimed that the project is meant to meet the drinking and irrigation needs of the villagers and ruled out that it was planned for industry.  

The gram sabha of Verem-Vagurme village panchayat held on October 29 passed a resolution, strongly demanding scrapping of the project, claiming that the WRD had not taken villagers into confidence. The villagers had further demanded that in future before undertaking any project in the village, it should be discussed in gram sabha. They also resolved to restore the damaged portion of Shitolem Lake.

The controversy first started on October 10, when the contractor commenced digging work at Shitolem Lake, which is naturally existing since long time and is source for drinking and irrigation to villagers. The locals feared that if work began, then they would lose their source of water for both - drinking and irrigation. 

The locals gathered at the site and stopped the work, saying that natural source of water was damaged by WRD while doing excavation work. They reiterated their charge that they were kept in dark over the project and that the work started secretly. The villagers urged the WRD officials and the Sarpanch to convene gram sabha to discuss the project threadbare.

The gram sabha turned stormy over the issue, which was discussed for almost three hour. The gram sabha members were constantly asked a barrage of questions cornering the Sarpanch Shobha Perni over the project. The Sarpanch told them that the village panchayat had no detailed information and that the WRD officials, including the Assistant Engineer, would give a presentation of the proposed project and would answer their questions.

However, locals were in no mood to listen to WRD officials and insisted that the Sarpanch should inform them when the work commenced and who launched it? They reiterated that the panchayat should have all the details of the project or else to stop the work.

The Sarpanch said that the panchayat doesn’t have detailed information and requested former Sarpanch Satyawan Shilkar present at the gram sabha, to brief the members since the project was envisaged during his tenure. But the gram sabha stuck to their demand that the panchayat should have all the details or else work should be stopped. 

The irate gram sabha members demanded resignation of the Sarpanch and panchayat members for failing to give satisfactory replies and allay their apprehensions about the project.

WRD Assistant Engineer, Shailesh Naik said the proposal for Shitolem lake development was put forth by villagers in the year 2021. But when gram sabha members asked for minutes of that meeting, the panchayat secretary said he had no records of that meeting as it was not convened officially.

Villagers termed the meeting illegal and refused to listen to the WRD Assistant Engineer. The WRD team beat a hasty retreat, without giving any presentation. Following this, the gram sabha unanimously passed a resolution to scrap the project, claiming they were not informed properly about the project. On their suggestion, the Sarpanch proposed the resolution and the Deputy Sarpanch seconded it. 

Shailesh Khedekar, a villager told O Heraldo that locals had always felt that the Shitolem Lake should be developed to solve their water problems. But now the project work was launched keeping them in the dark. 

The village panchayat doesn’t have details about the project and the villagers too is against this project because they are not clear as to who will benefit from it. Locals have doubts in their minds and are apprehensive that some people have purchased huge tracts of land and that this project was planned to meet their demand for water.

Dr Dattaram Desai, who works on rainwater harvesting said, “Development of Shitolem Lake is good. But I am opposed to construction of concrete walls as it can disrupt the water source and springs of the lake. The project should be discussed with the villages so as to consider their views.”

Verem-Vagurme Sarpanch, Shobha Perni claimed that she had no details about project. She said former Sarpanch Satyawan Shilkar could be in a best position to explain about the project as it was proposed during his tenure. She said she had called the WRD team, but villagers did not allow them to give presentation about the project.

According to WRD Assistant Engineer Shailesh Naik, Shitolemm Lake will solve water shortage issue of Verem-Vagurme and make Priol constituency a self-reliant and tanker-free. He said Shitolem lake water flows at downtsream and dries up in summer. 

“For storing water, concrete walls around it will be necessary as laterite stone work can’t strengthen the structure, which will almost act like a dam. However the concrete walls won’t cause any harm to water source as there is provision for water storage and will recharge the wells and springs at downstream of the locality,” Naik said.

Naik informed that the government had launched barrage at Murdi-Khandepar on Opa River costing Rs 88 crore, including Rs 3.75 crore Shitolem lake development, which is a part of the project. The project is undertaken considering water shortage problems faced by locals in Verem-Vagurme and other areas of Pirol constituency. 

The raw water from barrage at Murdi-Khandepar in Curti-Khandepar would be supplied to Shitolemm lake by laying underground 700 mm diameter pipeline and on the upper side of Shitolemm Lake the drinking water treatment plant will be built where in the first phase 5 MLD treatment plant would be constructed as per needs of villagers while making provision in future to expand its capacity.

It will be a total 32 MLD water treatment project at Shitolem Lake, out of which 18 MLD water will be utilised for irrigation purposes in Verem-Vagurme. Similarly 12 MLD water treatment plant would supply water to Verem-Vagurme and surrounding panchayats of Priol constituency and also to parts of Curti-Khandepar panchayat in Ponda constituency, where the barrage will be constructed to store raw water. 

The surplus water in barrage, after fulfilling requirement of Priol, would be supplied to Opa water treatment facility. The naturally existing Shitolem Lake has length of 178 metres, width 38 metres, where water would be stored by building concrete walls at a height of four metres, having storage capacity of 30,000 cubic metres, which will take care of water requirements of Verem-Vagurme and parts of Priol constituency.

Verem-Vagurme Panchayat Secretary, Prasad Naik when asked whether any proposals or files submitted to panchayat for steel industry or residential complexes, said that so far there was no proposal with the village panchayat.

Former Sarpanch, Satyawan Shilkar said that when he took charge as Sarpanch in 2017, people staged a protest demonstration, complaining water scarcity during summer and urged him to solve their water crisis. 

“I too realised that water problem should be solved. The locals of Savoi Verem were facing water crisis and villagers often were asking us to make best use of Shitolem Lake to solve their water requirements. So the Shitolem lake development project was planned after holding meetings with resource person in village and a proposal was sent to the Local MLA and Minister Govind Gaude requesting him to develop the lake for drinking water and irrigation,” Shilkar said

In 2019, it was discussed with local resource person, who worked on water harvesting. The Minister also included the Shitolem Lake Development Project in his election manifesto. The Shitolem lake dries up in January and February just when people face water shortages. 

“The water will be drawn to this lake from Khandepar river barrage, which will store water in Shitolem Lake, and recharge water source in the village. This is almost like mini dam and could serve as a best project to solve water shortage issues of the village panchayat,” said Silkar.

Art and Culture Minister Govind Gaude said that some people are politicising the issue and instigating the villagers. They are spreading misinformation that the project is built for the benefit of a steel plant and builders lobby. 

“Completely wrong information is being spread among the villagers. However, the government is duty bound to solve water shortage issue as villagers had proposed the project. Gaude said the project was taken up for whole Priol constituency especially Savoi Verem, Volvoi and Querim areas face water scarcity. Many people are dependent on water supplied through tankers,” Gaude said.

The project was not planned recently. Efforts were on since 2018. There was a proposal and a resolution from the village panchayat for Shitolem lake development in April 2021. 

“The project has been planned to solve water shortage issues and considering the requirement for next 20 years. He said 12 MLD treatment plant would supply drinking water while 18 MLD water would be used for irrigation by local farmers,” he said.

Referring to villagers’ apprehension that there would be concretisation of lake, Gaude assured the villagers that the issue would be sorted out considering views of local environmentalists. 

“The project work is expected to be completed within next two-and-half years. The Khandepar barrage water would be pulled in Shitolem Lake, when it dries up in summer season and thus meet the water needs of the villagers,” the minister added.


Idhar Udhar