Supa dam displaced lease out lands to paper mill

Twenty-six years ago, people displaced by the Supa dam were resettled in Karnataka's Uttara Kannada district. The better irrigation facilities promised to them after they were relocated in the district's Ramnagar panchayat haven't materialized. They still face an uncertain future.

The people are not allowed to use water from the dam to irrigate their land and no alternative facilities have been provided (see box: False promises). In desperation, they have given their land to a paper mill for monoculture plantations of invasive and exotic species. Environmentalists say the plantations will affect groundwater resources and the local flora and fauna.

The West Coast Paper Mill (wcpm) in nearby Dandeli town has entered into a 20-year contract with the villagers. The deal fits into the company's Rs 1,260-crore modernization plan. But will it benefit the villagers? Most of them have their doubts.The company is exploiting the hapless farmers, they feel. Nilu Solekar, member Ramnagar panchayat, elaborates on the straitened circumstances of his fellow agriculturists: "Farmers used to sell their land to people from Goa and Maharashtra. But once people from these states realized our land wasn't very productive, they stopped buying or bargained for cheap rates. 'So many of the farmers had no option but to lease out the land to wcpm. "If we had good irrigation facilities, we could have struck a better deal,' says Sharad Gurjar, former president of Supa panchayat.

Making hay The company's representatives claim that the farmers have entered the deal voluntary and they haven't been exploited at all. However, the terms of the deal belie their claim.

The farmers are bound to sell their produce after the plantation matures