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‘No end to vanvas’: Year after landslide erased Maharashtra village, residents still live in boxes

Battling stifling heat, leaking roofs, survivors of the July 2021 landslide live in makeshift shelters of asbestos. The permanent homes they were promised by govt remain unfinished.

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Taliye, Mahad: Lilabai Shiravale, in her 50s, lost 12 members of her family — including a six-year-old granddaughter and a 10-month-old grandson — in the devastating landslide which struck Taliye village in Maharashtra’s Mahad taluka in July last year.

She also lost her home in the calamity.

Now, over a year later, Shiravale and the other surviving members of her family — son, nephew and a brother-in-law — have been living with other survivors from the village in container homes, or makeshift shelters, provided by the Maharashtra government in the aftermath of the landslide.

“We were promised a house by June this year. Nothing has been done so far. Now let’s see whether we will be able to get a house by next May at least, or by June or July. Nobody [from the government] has even come to check on us [since the initial days following the disaster],” she claimed.

A string of landslides, brought on by heavy rains, hit the Konkan area in July last year, including in Maharashtra’s Raigad district. Taliye was among the worst hit, where a landslide on 22 July, 2021, completely buried the village. It reportedly hit 32 houses in the village and left 84 people buried.

A massive search and rescue operation followed and the Maharashtra government provided 24 containers as makeshift shelters for the survivors. About six-seven families were living in the shelters when ThePrint visited Sunday.

The makeshift shelters were set up on a site at a lower altitude than where the village had been, located about a kilometre-and-a-half from it.

The government had also promised to build permanent homes for the villagers as part of the rehabilitation of survivors. The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) is the executing body for the project.

However, the promised homes are yet to be ready. When ThePrint visited the site earmarked for the project, in the same area where the makeshift shelters currently stand, it found only some cement squares, which looked like foundation blocks. Villagers claimed these too came up only in May this year, after the then Maharashtra housing minister Jitendra Awhad visited the area.

The cement squares at the rehabilitation site | Photo: Purva Chitnis | ThePrint
The cement squares at the rehabilitation site | Photo: Purva Chitnis | ThePrint

“Before the pandemic we used to live in rented accommodations in Mumbai. But when my son lost his job during Covid, we moved to the village. Now we have lost everything, we don’t have the will to move anywhere. Our family, for whom we wanted to work and earn, were also taken from us in the landslide,” said Shiravale.

Life in these makeshift shelters is difficult, claimed the villagers. There is a lack of space and basic amenities, and often even the lights and fans don’t work, they said. If summer had them battling the sweltering heat, the monsoon brought with it leaking roofs and water seepage issues, the villagers told ThePrint, adding that the landslide not only destroyed their homes, but also the livelihood options for many.

According to the villagers, farming was the most important means of livelihood in the village, though some also held jobs outside the village.

Shiravale added: “We lost our farms, our sons lost their jobs [as security personnel, labourers, or at the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation, because they were not in the frame of mind to return to work after the landslide], we lost everything. Now we just feel that those of us who are homeless should get a proper house. We have nowhere to go.” Some of the villagers who lost their homes have already moved to their relatives’ houses elsewhere.

ThePrint reached MHADA’s vice-president Anil Diggikar, and housing secretary Milind Mhaiskar via text messages, but was yet to receive a response at the time of publishing this report.

Nitin Mahajan, chief officer of MHADA’s Raigad division and in-charge of the Taliye’s rehabilitation, said that the houses are expected to be completed before the next monsoon.

“The work of constructing the plinth has already been undertaken. And the rest of the house is being constructed in the factory. The material is getting readied in the factory. We just have to assemble them on site then,” he said.

Mahajan attributed the delay in construction to issues of identifying the land and land acquisition. “It takes time. We are going to give each family a 600 sq ft house. And it will be done pre-monsoon [next year],” he said.

Meanwhile, Mahad’s Shiv Sena member of legislative assembly (MLA), Bharatshet Gogawale, told ThePrint, “Yes, it [the construction] is in process. We are looking into it.”

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Inside the box

The makeshift shelters provided by the state government to Taliye’s surviving villagers are 20 ftx10 ftx10 ft boxes made of asbestos walls and ceilings.

The shelters were also furnished with fans, tube lights, cylinders (LPG), cots and water tanks, but villagers claim most of these have broken down since.

“Look at the fan. It rusted and fell down,” said Savita Gangavane, one of the villagers.

She added: “Now there is only one fan for the five of us. It was difficult during the summers. The entire container would heat. There are also mosquitoes. And now, during monsoons, the ceiling and the floor leak, and water seeps in. It is because of our helplessness that we are staying like this.”

Another villager, Anita Kondalkar, said, “For the past five months, these tube lights have also not been working. But we have nowhere to go until they give us a house,” she said, even as she pointed to her cot, another thing that has broken down.

Anita Kondalkar outside an extension she built to her container | Photo: Purva Chitnis | ThePrint
Anita Kondalkar outside an extension she built to her container | Photo: Purva Chitnis | ThePrint

Talking about the devastating landslide of last year, she recalled, “I got saved because we (she, her husband and son all survived) ran away. My mother-in-law was in Mumbai so she, too, was saved.”

Each surviving family was put up in one shelter. Though the number of people in each depend on the number of members in the family, on an average ThePrint found about four people living in each.

Some, like Shiravale and Kondalkar have built extensions to their containers.

“We have put bamboo and extended the verandah [to create some space],” said Shiravale.

The displaced villagers also face issues of water supply. “Right now we have water (from a well down the hill), but in the summer, when the well dried up, it was very difficult. A tanker had to be called,” said Gangavane.

Negotiating the walk from the well is a whole other concern. “We are old people, we can’t carry water pots on our heads and walk 2 km down to the well. And my daughter-in-law is pregnant, she can’t do it either,” she said.

Nowhere to go

While the villagers alleged that nobody from the government had come to check on them since in the aftermath of the landslide, they also miss meeting relatives from Mumbai and elsewhere, even though they admit they have no space to put them up in the shelters if they were to visit.

“Our relatives from Mumbai have also not been coming to us since we don’t have a place to live. Where will they sleep even if they come? Nobody came to visit us in summer and even now,” said Gangavane.

She added: “We ourselves don’t have space, where will we accommodate them? The fans don’t work. And at night you can’t even sleep because of mosquitoes.”

Savita Gangawane at the shelter | Photo: Purva Chitnis | ThePrint
Savita Gangawane at the shelter | Photo: Purva Chitnis | ThePrint

Income sources, too, have dried up for many of them. Many lost their jobs following the landslide and are now facing difficulties finding one.

“Many of our sons here are still struggling, although some have gone back to Mumbai or Mahad,” said Shiravale. “We lost everything and my son, who was working in the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), lost his job after the tragedy,” she added.

Families which lost members in the landslide received a compensation of Rs 5 lakh from the state government and it is this money, said Shiravale, that her family has been dependent on.

“We are currently surviving on the compensation given by the government then, and some money from here and there. The government should help with jobs for our young people,” she said.

Shiravale added: “We can stay in this container provided by the government, but what do we eat? We don’t even have a farm now and starting everything from scratch requires a lot of money.”

According to Kondalkar, they often find it difficult to even refill the LPG cylinders that they got from the government. The refill costs about Rs 1,100. “We are back to cooking on the chullah,” she said.

Taliye residents told ThePrint that they feel as if they have been banished from society.

“Whom shall we complain to? The government should take note of us. We are living in very poor conditions. Our vanvas (exile) is not getting over,” said Gangavane.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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