Situated in the heart of India, Nagpur has has a long history of several social, cultural, political movements. In the early 90s when the new liberalisation policy was much talked about, the Indira Sagar dam on Vainganga river was inaugurated in 1988. It was initiated under the tribal sub-plan of the Sixth Five-Year Plan (1980-1985) of the Government of India, aimed at developing in particular the tribal region of the district of Chandrapur, situated in the command area. Its completion is expected by the end of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan, which makes it one of the oldest river-basin projects to be achieved, despite being of a comparatively small size if put in perspective with the heard-of infamous Sardar Sarovar or older dams such as Hirakud.
Vainganga river passes through the Gosikhurd village in the Pavni block of Nagpur district. The dam, to be bulit over three stages, is 11 kms long and its proposed height was 22.5 metres, whereas it currently stands at 29 metres. It was originally assessed that 22,258 hectares of land from 34 villages of Bhandara district and 51 villages of Nagpur district would be submerged by the dam. But it is evident that all the water is being routed out to the power plants and so there is no way that the water can be left for irrigation. As per the project estimates, around 81,623 people are going to be displaced due to the construction of this dam. Of these, 75 villages are such that not only the homestead but the agricultural land too, will be submerged. At the time when the dam was being built, the people were told that they would get Rs 16,000 per acre. According to today's price index, the rate of the land currently stands at Rs 7 lakh per acre.
Bhongade has been associated with the social struggles in Nagpur city in the 80s. He has progressively engaged and socialized in all forms of grassroots’ and people’s social struggles: construction workers, incense stick fabricants, child labour, domestic workers, agricultural daily-wage labourers, anti-superstition movements, and the implementation of Forest Rights Act. All of this work comes under the broad umbrella of 'Kashtkari Jan Andolan'. [Kanta Madaame story] The struggle for proper rehabilitation of the people affected by the Gosikhurd dam began after its first major rally in 1996. It was only then that the struggle took a concrete shape, and it was led under the banner of Gosikhurd Prakalpgrast Sangharsha Samiti (GPSS).
One of the major reasons why the GPSS has been successful is because of the Unique Ways of Protest. Each year, one major rally would be organised which would gain the win from the administration. While one year a massive rally with the cattle was out on the streets, at another time, several hundreds of stoves were lit near the dam, as a mark of protest against the sketchy rehabilitation plans for the people to be affected by the dam.
In 2009, a package of Rs 152 crore was sanctioned, and in 2010, a cash compensation of Rs 5 lakh would be provided to every family, since the government wouldn't be able to provide jobs to every youth in every family. [Milestones] But at the same time, two villages have already been displaced and now they are fighting for their basic needs and provisions. However, local politics from the area which has turned the direction of the struggle in just 6 months. The new struggle among these petty parties is about taking credit for leading the struggle.
The work of the Kashtkari Jan Andolan also extends to the implementation of the Forests Rights Act of 2008. The efforts have been on in 37 villages of Umred block and 42 villages of Bhivapur block of Nagpur, and 22 more villages of Nagpur which border Wardha. This area is mostly inhabited by the Gond and Mana tribes. Ever since the notification issued by the government that people ought to file in their applications to claim their part of the forest land, several people have been doing the needful. Significantly, 6 people from Nangaon village and 4 people from Iraya village – both falling under Vibhapur block – had received their land pattas (deeds). [Our Forest, Our Life story]
Currently, Bhongade provides a small stipend to two of his karyakartas, but is unable to put his thoughts on compensation on concrete ground. However, each of the smaller fractions of the two major movements – Kashtkari Jan Andolan and GPSS – have within themselves people who are leading the struggles. The battle between livelihood for one's own family and participating in the social movements continues in these two struggles too, but the karyakartas have seen the need for the movement, without which their future would be dark.