Shivaram Gaonkar’s 15-year fight for relief almost cost the power utility its HQ. Imran Khan reports
ON 11 JANUARY, Karnataka Power Corporation Limited (KPCL) officials got the shock of their lives when a farmer, armed with a civil court order, tried to auction the company’s headquarters, Shakthi Bhavan, in Bengaluru.
The farmer was Shivaram Gaonkar, 37, a resident of Ballikol village in North Canara district, who had run from pillar to post for 15 years to get compensation for his five acres that were acquired for a power project.
The tale of Gaonkar, who grows arecanut and bananas, is similar to the fate of millions of farmers who have had to sacrifice their land at the altar of ‘development’.
In 1993, KPCL decided to build a dam across the Kali river to generate 512 units of power. Kali is one of the many rivers that flow through the forests of the Western Ghats. On this 184-km long river, there are six major hydroelectric dams that have submerged 32,000 acres, bringing plenty of misery.
Gaonkar’s village Ballikol was among the five in Joida and Yellapura taluks that were submerged in 1997 by the construction of the dam for the Kali-Kodasalli project, which rendered more than 400 families homeless.
KPCL had promised to adequately compensate and rehabilitate the villagers but ended up paying only a paltry sum. Angry farmers decided to take the matter with the KPCL and demanded better relief. When KPCL refused, the farmers started the Kali-Kodasalli Rehabilitation Janseva Samiti and launched a protest movement that has been going on for the past 15 years.
Gaonkar was one of the protesters. Having suffered the indignity of being refused his rightful due, he had to finally knock on the doors of the court as a last resort.
In 1996, he approached the Sirsi court demanding additional compensation. He argued that the relief amount of Rs 29 lakh was inadequate, and that KPCL had offered him only three acres in return for the five acres that he lost.
Acting on his petition in 2005, the civil court directed KPCL to pay an additional compensation of Rs 28 lakh. However, KPCL refused and challenged the order in the high court. The high court not only upheld the lower court’s order, but also raised the compensation amount to Rs 93 lakh. KPCL didn’t budge and took the case to the Supreme Court, which quashed its petition on 1 January and directed them to pay the amount at the earliest.
There are more than 300 similar cases pending before the court, says Gaonkar
Gaonkar then approached the Sirsi Civil Court, which directed the authorities to take over Shakthi Bhavan, and auction it to recover his dues. When Gaonkar arrived with the court order, the KPCL legal team handed him a cheque of Rs 93 lakh to avoid further embarrassment.
“I’m very happy because justice has finally prevailed. But I’m concerned about the other affected families who are still awaiting compensation,” says Gaonkar, who is staying in Holavalli village now. “There are more than 300 such cases pending before the court and they too are expecting a similar judgment.” Gaonkar and his fellow petitioners are planning a protest fast on 25 January for speedy implementation of compensation.
Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.com.