In Focus

New Sarpanch, New Equations

So, while all of Elephanta Island’s natives braced for an influx of tourists from over the world on their seaside homes and got cracking to build over and above what was originally theirs, a lot of snags stalled their most prized project.

The fact that the Islanders will need to take permissions from the Gram Panchayat for any of it is of little consequence. After all, the Gram Panchayat is headed by one of their own. The new Sarpanch Baliram Thakur was, initially, a hot favourite over an age-old Sarpanch Rajendra Padte who reigned over the island for over decades. But, as soon as Thakur was elected, the villagers found themselves unable to reach out to him. Power corrupts the powerful and Thakur is only a mortal.

For the Islanders, a lot of snags stalled their most prized projects

“Now, the new Sarpanch is only interested in getting himself photographed with State ministers and leaders in the hope of getting politically strong,” says a disgruntled Rajbunder resident and a former aide of the Sarpanch on grounds of anonymity. After all, he says, “Aage jake ussi se toh har choti moti cheez ke liye permission lena padega. Usse bair karke nuksaan hi hai, (Now, in the days to follow, for every small issue, we need his help. It won’t pay to alienate him)”.

So, politically, while the new Sarpanch, Thakur came in originally only to contest an age-old candidature of outgoing Sarpanch Rajendra Padte, who had been holding fort for over years, the more recent changes in the CRZ law and the ensuing prospects of an imminent surge in tourism have only added to the dizzying cocktail of power.

This report has been prepared for DraftCraft International’s Flagship Initiative, The Elephanta Island Project to research, analyse and determine the rights and liabilities of Islanders, local and foreign tourists vis-a-vis the responsibility of the State towards all stakeholders and natural resources while upholding the law of the land and ensuring the protection of environment that tops the list of priorities. The initiative examines laws and policies regarding islands, sea transport, privacy, women’s rights, health, protection of the environment and rights and liabilities of tourists guaranteed to all by the State in context of the Right To Equality, Freedoms, The Right to Life and Global Conventions to which India is a signatory.