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450km away from Tembhali, story of PM visit opens old wounds

Kolejhari, like Tembhali, witnessed a flurry of official activity just before the PM's proposed visit on July 1, 2006, but the trip was called off at the last moment.

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Yogesh Pawar

Updated: Sep 30, 2010, 02:00 AM IST

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At Tembhali in Nundurbar district, prime minister Manmohan Singh's trip may have brought a deluge of happy news, but at Kolejhari village in Yavatmal, 450 km from Tembhali as the crow flies, Kamalabai Pawar, 72, seethes in anger at any mention of it.

"I hope his visit does not bring any misery on the poor people there. The prime minister's 'almost visit' to our village ruined our lives for good," she says, chewing on her tobacco furiously.

Kolejhari, like Tembhali, witnessed a flurry of official activity just before the PM's proposed visit on July 1, 2006, but the trip was called off at the last moment.

As the army of officials and police personnel vanished in a jiffy, abandoning the village to its fate, Kamalabai's family had to bear the brunt of the 'quick-fix' arrangements. Four years later, the financially ruined household is still counting its losses.

Kamalabai's landless family lost its only seven-acre source of income as officials went on an overdrive.

Her husband Gosavi and son Prakash had worked hard to raise cotton crop on the land which belongs to another farmer, Sangeet Rao. The family follows share cropping, under which the proceeds from the yield are divided equally between the owner of the land and themselves.

"The tehsildar's people said they wanted to build a temporary helipad for the PM's chopper and this piece of land was ideally located," says Prakash, 38, adding, "We were in a quandary since it meant that our standing crop would be destroyed. But the then collector Harshad Kamble assured the owner that he would be compensated. We could only watch as JCB machines flattened the land and road rollers created an even, smooth helipad."

Along with a helipad came up a temporary Western-style toilet block for the VIP visitor.

After everything was set, word came that the PM was not coming after all. By the evening, the police posse vanished with the toilet block and the Pawars and Sangeet Rao were left wondering what to do. "I have other land which I till myself but Prakash and his family had to go through hungry patches," Rao said.

"We have gone to the tehsildar, the collector and the divisional commissioner but years of follow-up has only meant waste of money on travel," laments Prakash, who has since borrowed more from local money lenders to lay fresh soil on a small part of what is now a rocky untillable patch.

Vatsala Kukadkar, a neighbour, remembers how the 400 families in the village were excited when they heard that the PM was coming to meet the kin of the debt-ridden farmers who had ended their lives in July four years ago.

"We were told that when we tell him of our difficulties he will give some relief and end our misery," she says, “But the only thing that happened was a few people got to go on jeep to Yavatmal where they met the PM. What is the point of making announcements for relief when the people are getting into more debt to solve problems created by the PM's visit?"

Local farmer rights activist Kishor Tiwari, who heads the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, says he is not surprised. "What else can you expect from the government which only has things like IUDs (intrauterine devices for family planning) and UIDs for the rural poor?" he asks wryly. "I hope some poor tribal farmer in Tembhali is not the victim of similar fate."

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