Manibeli: First village on state's electoral rolls decides not to vote

At a time when election fervour is at its peak in Maharashtra, with political parties sweating it out to lure voters with tall promises, residents of Manibeli village in north Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district, have decided not to cast their vote.

The reason is their strong feeling of disenfranchisement. The village lacks electricity and road connectivity, after 72 years of Independence. Now, weary villagers say, they no longer have the willpower to fight for their basic rights.

Manibeli is the first village listed on Maharashtra’s voter rolls and has over 135 voters. It comes under tribal-dominated Akkalkuwa tehsil, which is assembly constituency No.1 in Maharashtra.

“We will boycott the election because our years of struggle to get electricity and roads haven't succeeded. An eight km-road approved under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojna two years ago is stuck in red-tape. We have lost all hopes in politicians now,” says villager Natwar Bhai Tadvi, 60.

Maharashtra claimed to have achieved 100 per cent village electrification in 2018. The Modi government has also claimed that 25 states, including Maharashtra, had achieved 100% household electrification.

Incidentally, Manibeli was the first village to be submerged in the Sardar Sarovar Dam project in 1994 and was centre of Save Narmada Movement for years. While most project-affected families were rehabilitated in other areas, a few continued to stay further up on hills as their rehabilitation claims remain pending.

Last month,19 such families lost their homes, all their worldly goods and their farmland when the reservoir of the Sardar Sarovar dam was filled to capacity -138.68 metres - a month ahead of schedule.

“The irony is that our dark village faces the colossal Statue of Unity and the Sardar Sarovar Dam (both in Gujarat), which are magnificently lit in the night. Yet, politicians do nothing for us,” says Narayan Tadvi, the former sarpanch of Manibeli, justifying their stand to refrain from voting in the assembly elections slated to be held on October 21.

Villagers say whenever their gram panchayat pushes for a power connection or government-run schemes, their proposals are turned down, citing the ‘area under submergence’ status.

With no public transport, telephone or mobile connectivity, the village is virtually cut off from the rest of Maharashtra. Most people continue to defecate in open.

The village has a government school on paper and most children study in a residential school run by the Narmada Bachao Abhiyan (NBA), which runs Classes 1-4. “Even floating clinics launched two years ago visit them fortnightly and often there are no doctors,” says NBA activist Latika Rajput.

A two-hour boat ride from Molgi (Akkalkuwa) is the only way to reach Manibeli, which looks like an island in the Narmada. Only a handful have got boats, though. Others make arduous two-day treks to Akkalkuwa.

Manilal Tadvi says, “Since 1994, the village has seen eight further submersions, thanks to the gradual increase in the dam’s height. Every time we build new houses farther up on hills.”

Manibeli voters have never seen their legislator (KC Padvi, Congress) or parliamentarian (Heena Gavit, Bharatiya Janata Party) or any politician, for that matter. Although most of them admit to having voted in the past, as the election commission does instal a polling booth here in the face of all odds.

(The story was first published in Mongabay.com, an American environmental portal)

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