Nagpur - They are the Orange city’s milk-bond. But as the government goes ahead with MIHAN project, Shivangaon’s harangued milkmen wonder what’s the substitute to their dairy business – it’s worth Rs 25 crore a year even in a subdued state!

“We don’t know whether or not the cargo hub project comes; what we know for sure is that not just our lands, crops, orange orchards and water, but our cattle would perish. It’s been our strongest thread of survival for many years,” says a septuagenarian Keshavrao Kale, among the village’s first-generation milkmen.

Kale is not alone to suffer huge losses in his business. Over a thousand milkmen of Shivangaon grapple to stay afloat, with their lands being attached for a project they never asked and stood for, even as its influential proponents and well-ensconced political leadership here blindly bulldoze the native people; and this – for a project that has no administrative, environmental or financial nod as yet.

Kale has had to cut down his dairy business to half in last five years. “I still have about 12-13 buffaloes and eight cows, which yield at least 100-litre milk daily.”

That’s a business of Rs 2,000 per day, or a profit of Rs 1200 minus expenditure. “Like others we also have a few persons employed at our stable,” he informs.

“Our lands have been attached, and now this is the only avenue of income. If we are displaced and given small plots, where will these animals go and who will compensate us for this dairy income?” the old man wonders. The government has decided to compensate for the land by paying cash and a residential plot to each family, but 70 per cent people of this village have cattle that bring in daily income from milk, with customers spread across the west and south Nagpur.

Shivangaon has lost its land to nine different projects in fractions since 1937, says Baba Dawre, the protestors’ leader. But the Multi-Modal International Hub and Airport (MIHAN) project would uproot the villagers from their land forever.

Not a single village has been rehabilitated . Shivangaon villagers, including women, had tonsured their heads in protest last year.

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The village has about 5000 buffaloes and 2000 milch-cows, which together yield roughly 35-40,000 litres of milk every day. At Rs.20 per litre, their milk economy stands at about Rs.7-8 lakhs every day, or a staggering Rs.25-29 crores annually. This is down by over 50 per cent since the project talks began in 1999-2000.

“We have dairy history here,” Dawre informs. “You can see, 70 per cent of our villagers are surviving on milk-economy today, otherwise these people (he refers to the government) have left no stone unturned to destroy our farms this year.”

Factor in the milk produced in the ten neighbouring villages, acquired for the MADC-promoted multi-product SEZ, the daily milk production is double that of Shivangaon and a combined economy of roughly Rs.75 crores annually.

That’s a robust economy, the villagers point out. “Will the government substitute this economy with cash? If it does, we’ll part with our lands, otherwise give us equivalent of our land and livestock?” Dattu Bode, 70, puts it strongly.

He holds: “In a tearing hurry to acquire our land for SEZ and cargo hub, the state government and its (special purpose vehicle) Maharashtra Airport Development Company (MADC) have turned a blind eye to our livelihood options.”

For eight years, the beleaguered villagers have stood united to withstand real-estate forces, the government and a hostile local leadership.

But they are not giving up. “We won’t give up until the government either drops its plan of acquiring our land, or gives us a substitute to our land, crop, orange orchards, water and dairy. All this is worth several hundred crores,” says Vilas Bhagwan Kale, a 26-year-old milkman, who owns 40 cows and buffaloes.

The milkmen demand: “We’ll leave this place, provided we get Rs.25 crores every year, for the next 15 years, as compensation for foregoing our dairy income.”

“We want a guarantee to our income and land. What if the project never comes up? We’ve seen that with MIDC in the past, and there is a strong possibility that the cargo hub may never succeed here,” insists Dawre. He may not be wrong.

The project : Multimodal International Hub and Airport at Nagpur (MIHAN)

Shivangaon (land and houses) with over 1500 hectares is being acquired for expansion of airport; it has given its land in parts since 1937 for various projects, including an 80-ft road, a housing project, a dairy unit and the Indian Air Force’s base for the IL-76 cargo aircraft in mid-eighties.

The MADC is the special purpose vehicle for the implementation of MIHAN . Residents of Shivangaon are protesting acquisition of land at paltry rates . Their demand: Compensation for land at prevailing market rates; substitute to land, and substitute to income from dairy, poultry and orange orchards.

Compensation awarded: Between Rs.1 lakh and Rs.10 lakhs per acre. Market rate, they say, is Rs.1 crore per acre . Seven adjoining villages have lost 2086 hectares for the SEZ. Compensation awarded by MADC to them – between Rs.1 lakh and Rs.3 lakhs.

Not a single village has been rehabilitated . Shivangaon villagers, including women, had tonsured their heads in protest last year.