Gujarat polls: In Bhavnagar's Ghogha, Ro-Ro offers no relief; vikas is discriminatory, say Muslims
When Modi arrived in Ghogha to launch Ro-Ro ferry, villagers expected him to address their concerns. But, it seems the village missed the vikas boat.
In October, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the coastal town of Ghogha in Gujarat's Bhavnagar district to inaugurate the roll-on-roll-off (RoRo) ferry service, that connects Saurashtra to south Gujarat. His hour-long speech at the launch of his "dream project" took just about one-fourth the time many of Ghogha's residents lose because of water daily, or rather the lack of it.
As part of her daily routine, Shehnaz Sheikh, a Ghogha resident, walks for about an hour to the pond near her village to wash clothes. She needs another hour to wash them and an hour more to walk back. "There is no water in the village," she says, while on her way to fill drinking water.
"The common well has water for six months a year, and that too stinks. It is a farce that we use this water to clean utensils and clothes. We cannot use groundwater because it is saline," Shehnaz adds.
Through the narrow, sludgy lanes of Ghogha – situated on the mid-western bank of the Gulf of Khambhat – water storing drums stare at you from every nook and corner. They are filled with drinking water once a month for about one hour, and that too is not clean. Which is why they have to order water tankers frequently. One pot of water costs about five rupees.
"I just filled water worth 20 bucks," says Shehnaz. "The costs multiply during summers. They know we have no other option."
Most of the residents of Ghogha and the adjacent village of Machchiwada – making up for over 13,000 of Bhavnagar's population – are small fishermen or labourers. They work around the village or in Bhavnagar city, which is about 20 kilometres away.
Sajid Ibrahim, a mechanic, says that he spends Rs 1,200-1,500 every month to procure drinking water. "That is about 20 percent of my monthly income," he says. "In summers, it doubles or triples. How am I supposed to sustain? What exactly are we demanding that is so difficult to provide?"
Apart from the three hours she loses to washing clothes, Shehnaz has to fill water from the common well, if it has any left. If Not, she then has to walk outside the village to fetch it for cleaning and bathing.
"I do not remember a time when we did not have water problems," she says. "This is what I have been doing all my life. It is ironic to live on the coast and grapple for water. We have been complaining to the MLA for years, but he has hardly ever turned up in the village."
The constituency belongs to Purushottam Solanki, a three-time MLA from the Bhavnagar rural seat. He is a prominent Koli leader, the community that dominates the constituency.
But merely eight kilometres from Ghogha, in the village of Koliyak, the anger over Solanki's neglect is replaced by euphoria. Daksha Parmar, a Koliyak resident, says that she gets 24 hours of running water throughout the year. "Purushottambhai has brought vikas (development) to our village," she says. "He has reduced so much of our efforts. We do not have to think of water as we plan our day."
A vegetable seller in Koliyak, Kanabhai Bariya, says that Solanki is very accessible. "...smallest of complaints and Solanki will be at your doorstep to find a solution," he says. "He has built hospitals, roads, provided water in our village and the neighbouring villages as well."
The village of Ghogha, though, has conspicuously missed the boat of vikas. When Modi arrived to launch the 615 crore RoRo project, villagers desperately expected the prime minister to address their concerns. But he did not.
The aim of the ferry service was to appease the Patels in the vicinity, who have their relatives working in textile and diamond industries of Surat. The geography of Gujarat forced people in Bhavnagar to cover the entire arc and go around the sea via a nine-hour bus journey to get to Surat. The ferry service directly takes one to south Gujarat in an hour, as it connects Ghogha to Dahej.
In Budhel village, 12 kilometres from Ghogha, Khimjibhai Gorakhiya says that he can now meet his sons living in Surat regularly, who work in the diamond industry. "Modi has brought us closer," he says. "Earlier, we had to plan well ahead of time to meet them. Today, we can go and come back within a day. Our sons can visit us more frequently. It has saved our money, efforts and time."
The same ferry service taking off from Ghogha, however, has become a headache for its residents. Most of the small fishermen in the village do not own a boat. They fish near the banks, by going in as far as they can by foot.
Munaf Abdul, 45, says that when the ships embark and disembark from the jetty, they rupture the fishing nets placed by the fishermen in the sea. "Nobody compensates us for that loss," he says. "Moreover, the jetty has limited our fishing area. Guards at the jetty do not allow us to fish on the other side of it. It has reduced our income by half."
The jetty service has brought a shipping yard with it as well, but Ghogha residents have hardly benefited from it. "We get odd labour jobs at the shipping yard but that is once in a while," adds Sajid. "We need permanent, assured sources of income. But our woes have been selectively ignored."
Over 70 percent residents of Ghogha are Muslim, while the villages around it are predominantly Koli. Mohammad Sheikh, a labourer living in Ghogha, says that they do not mind supporting the BJP if the government provides basic facilities.
"We do not want anything expansive," he says. "All we ask for is jobs and water. Conditions here are unliveable, while villages around us are in much better shape. There is only one hospital in the neighbourhood, which is only for emergency services. Are we being discriminated against because of our faith?"
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