The violent earthquake in western India in January 2001 left thousands of people dead and tens of thousands of homes destroyed. Filmmaker Rakesh Sharma went to remote villages affected by the quake as a volunteer to help install solar-powered lighting. He ran into an acquisition survey team from the Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation (GMDC), which wanted to take over affected villages for lignite mining (power generation). Rakesh decided to make a film about the mining company’s attempt to take over two villages damaged by the quake.
Rakesh returned to the villages several times and followed the negotiations between GMDC (74% of the shares are held by the state government) and the villagers of Julrai and Umarsar. In return for vacating their land, the villagers were promised new houses, running water and electricity, but no financial compensation, no jobs, no alternate farmland.
On the surface, everything is done by the book with meetings and democratic votes. But when some of the low-caste Rabbaris from Julrai refuse to vacate their land (which means leaving their only source of income), the big corporation take a hard line.
The village is denied compensation from the earthquake relief fund, drinking water is also refused, and no mail is delivered to the village that was ‘officially’ abandoned. Once again the poor pay the price of modern society’s need for progress.
The film goes further in its argumentation, but too much is explained in first-person narrative. The filmmaker expresses his critical viewpoints leaving little room for us to draw our own conclusions. The effect is much better when farmers speak for themselves and tell the camera how living near a lignite plant has changed their life, polluted the water and spread illness among people and animals.
But thanks to the thorough journalistic approach, the film shows with painful clarity how easily a powerful corporation can use hollow promises to barter for land and mining leases, thereby changing the life and environment of a whole region and its people.
The filmmaker has financed the film entirely from his own resources without any grants or funding, and one naively wishes that the film would create an ‘aftershock’ in the conscience of certain people.
© EDN/ModernTimes (previously published in DOX Magazine).