Old war, new bodies

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‘Dalals were the only way to get my money’

Madhya Pradesh has no land to rehabilitate the dam oustees. Instead, the convoluted rules of the relief package create victims for conmen

Ranchor Bhai, dam oustee framed in a land scam

IT WAS ONLY after spending a month in jail that Ranchor Bhai discovered why he was there. “You appeared as a witness for me,” Ranchor was told – by a man he had never met.

Ranchor’s village is in the Sardar Sarovar dam’s submergence zone. Any monsoon, the waters could rise to drown Ranchor’s 1.5 acre plot of land and the entire village of Ekalvara.

So in 2001, when he learnt he was entitled to a cash compensation of Rs 5.6 lakhs under a Special Rehabilitation Package (SRP), Ranchor made several trips to the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) to collect his dues. The first time nobody would answer his questions. The next time he was told “the money will be sent to you.” On his last attempt, the doorman refused to let him in.

Ranchor was beginning to lose hope when another local, Ram Singh, said he could help Ranchor get his money in return for a fee of Rs 45,000. He agreed. “I was going to lose my land,” Ranchor said. “I was scared the money would also go. There was no way to get it without the dalals.” Within a few days, Ram Singh collected a cheque in Ranchor’s name from the NVDA office. It was for Rs 2,41,000 – half the total amount due to him. To get the rest, according to the SRP scheme, Ranchor would need to produce a ‘sauda chitti’ or land sale agreement confirming he had paid an advance on land he would buy with the money allotted to him.

The MP government had already declared to the Supreme Court (SC) in 1999 that it could not find land to rehabilitate those displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Project. There was no reason to believe Ranchor Bhai stood a better chance at finding land. That’s what the state insisted he do to claim his compensation.

Soon, another villager called Sangram Singh said he’d help Ranchor get his second instalment for a fee of Rs 60,000. He was told a fake sale agreement would be generated. There would be no real transfer of land, only a charade to get his money out. The land would be returned to the original seller soon. “Don’t be scared. We are here to take care of everything,” Sangram told Ranchor as they stood outside a registrar’s office. Little did Ranchor know that the man who stood before him as the seller was himself fake, and that the real land owner didn’t even know his land was being transferred to Ranchor’s name. After the formalities were completed and several thumb prints taken, Ranchor headed back to Ekalvara. He waited to receive the rest of his compensation. It never came.

Two months later, he learnt that the police was arresting people for fake registries. Sangram Singh assured Ranchor his name would never appear on the fake registry – for another Rs 20,000. Ranchor was tilling his fields when the men in khakhi arrived to arrest him. “You’ve been working as a dalal and helping people conduct fake land registries,” the police accused him in 2007. Ranchor gave his version and named both Ram Singh and Sangram Singh. The police never went looking for them. There is no FIR against the two.

Ranchor paid Rs 20,000 to ensure his name does not appear on the fake registry. Two months later, the police came to arrest him

One humid afternoon in 2008, Bhura Singh Richa, another villager displaced by the SSP entered Ranchor’s cell. Bhura had already spent the last four months in jail. Ranchor learnt that his thumb impression had been used to make him a witness in the registration of land that Bhura had ‘bought’ from some hapless landowner, just as Ranchor had ‘bought’ land. In the dalal’s masterplan Bhura had been made a witness in Ranchor’s registry and vice versa. The government had declared both registries fake, arrested the fake buyers and the witnesses. However, not all witnesses were arrested. While Ranchor’s sale deed clearly shows the dalal Sangram Singh as a witness, he remains free, confirming the nexus between the brokers, police and the officials.

Ranchor’s story is not unique. Every oustee who has tried to get his due compensation has a similar and convoluted tale of betrayal. In affidavits filed before the SC, Ranchor is shown as successfully rehabilitated. Now that human rights have been taken care of, the waters may be allowed to rise and drown their fields.

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