THE COST OF BAGLIHAR

  • RAQIB HAMEED NAIK
  • Publish Date: Jul 16 2018 9:45PM
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  • Updated Date: Jul 16 2018 9:45PM
THE COST OF BAGLIHARGK Photo

IN DODA, AROUND 1500 PEOPLE DISPLACED BY THE DAM ON THE RIVER CHENAB ARE A CHILLING REMINDER OF THE ENORMOUS HUMAN COST OF HYDRO-ELECTRIC PROJECTS

 

IN THIS REPORT, RAQIB HAMEED NAIK SAYS THE 1200 RESIDENTS AND 250 SHOPKEEPERS DISPLACED BY THE HYDROELECTRIC PROJECT CONTINUE TO BATTLE HARDSHIPS. MIGRATION AS A RESULT OF THE DAM ON THE CHENAB RIVER HAS PUSHED HUNDREDS OF DISPLACED PEOPLE INTO POVERTY.

 

For 376 families of Pul Doda, once a commercial hub of the Chenab Valley and a gateway to Doda and Kishtwar districts, 180 km north-east of Jammu district, the 900 MW Baglihar hydro-electricity project on the river Chenab has become synonymous with sufferings which they have been enduring for the past 10 years.

The dam was commissioned in October 2008 by then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, marking the migration of the local residents to other parts of the district and the state as a result of rising water level in river Chenab.

The dam resulted in displacing more than 1200 local residents and 250 shopkeepers, who had spent their whole lives in the town, seeing it develop from a village alongside the river to a township full of commercial activities with an annual business turnover of more than Rs 20 crore. 

But 2008 changed everything for them. They were forced to migrate to the other parts of the district and the state where they started realizing the harsh reality they had to live with for the rest of their lives.

 

NO PLACE TO CALL A HOME:

Ghulam Muhammad Khanday, 62, sporting a pencil grey and white beard with sunken eyes, owned a two room fully furnished apartment in Pul Doda housing his two daughters, a son and wife, Hajra Begum, now 58. He was the manager of Kousar Hotel and owner of a popular tea shop.

He was forced to vacate his house in 2008 by the local authorities after government order threatening action against those not complying with their dictates were posted on walls in the town.

“Everyone feared government back then,” recalls Khanday.

“They made estimates of our houses back in 2001 and paid the compensation according to that estimate in 2008,” he tells the Kashmir Ink. “Even a layman can guess the difference of prices of the construction between 2001 and 2008,” he adds.

After Khanday was forced to migrate from Pul Doda, he shifted 280 kms away to Srinagar in search of a better livelihood option, but ended up spending a major part of the 3 lakh and seventy thousand rupees compensation, given by the government for his house, on rents and a failed business of selling tea and snacks on a mobile cart.

He moved back to Doda district in 2014, but to find his neighbors and friends scattered across the state.

After draining all the compensation on rents, he finally decided to move back to his ancestors’ village Tander in Dachhan block in Kishtwar district which is still cut off from the rest of the world with no roads and electricity.

He now grows spinach, potatoes, and rice to feed his family of four, while his elder daughter Shaheena Banoo, 30, works as an accredited social health activist (ASHA), a community health worker, fetching her 1000 rupees a month which is spent on buying medicines for diabetic Khanday and asthmatic Hajra.

Ganesh Das, 50, owned a big shop with wide wooden windows and floor plated with marbles, selling shoes, few blocks away from Khanday’s tea point.

He owned a two storey house which was shared between him and his brother and a part of the house was rented out to a family from a nearby village. 

“That shop and house were all we had made out of our blood and sweat in decades,” he tells the Kashmir Ink.

After government forced him to vacate his house, Das with a compensation of three lakh rupees in hand given by the government for his two-storey house and four mouths to feed went to live in Doda town.

“Land was very expensive those days and it continues to be. For Rs 3 lakhs I could only buy 2 marlas which weren’t sufficient to construct a decent one-room house. Even if I would have bought the land, where would the money come from for the construction?” he asks.

The compensation amount drained within one and a half year. To pay the rent, school fee and feed his three children and wife, Das learned driving and started working as a driver for a transporter.

“Today we have a roof over us because I am working. Tomorrow we can be roofless because I don’t have any permanent job with recurring income,” he told the Kashmir Ink in a pessimistic tone.

In May 2008, then Congress-Peoples Democratic Party coalition government had ordered the resettlement and rehabilitation of the affected families by identification of five marlas of land to each affected family and one marla land to each affected shopkeeper. But 10 years after the government order, its implementation is yet to see the light of the day.

“We have been ditched and deceived by every political party whether it is NC, Congress, PDP or BJP. We are just votes for them,” Das said.

 

RICHES TO RAGS:

Thirty-two-year-old Dheeraj Sharma was once the owner of the biggest pharmacy shop in Pul Doda. He was the supplier of medicines to other retail pharmacies in the town, which sometimes brought him a profit of more than two and a half lakh rupees a month.

In 2008, Dheeraj along with 250 other shopkeepers were asked to vacate by the district authorities. He shifted to Doda town to start his life afresh.

“Whereever I would go and ask for shops, they would demand rent of more than 20000 and above all the security deposits would run in lakhs,” he tells the Kashmir Ink.

For next four years, he wasn’t able to find a shop or work, forcing him to take anti-depression pills. His mental health deteriorated to such an extent that he started showing suicidal tendencies.

“Those years I felt like suicide was ruling my mind because the dam had shattered and battered our lives and that was the only option left,” he says.

For years he continued to struggle to find a suitable work. From working as an employee at a transport union office to opening a grocery shop, he almost tried his hands on everything only to end up selling potato snacks near a bus stop.

“I don’t know how to repay the debt of more than six lakh rupees which I took all these years to pay for the rents and buy the food,” he adds with a grim look.

The condition of Akhter Hussain, 32 is no different than Dheeraj. Before 2008, he was the owner of transport union which was responsible for filling the passenger vehicles while charging 10 percent of the fare as the commission with five employees working under his command. Ten years down the line, he is still in the same business but now as an agent at the union.

“After dislocation, I tried to look for another job, but couldn’t find any as I didn’t have a college degree,” recalls Akhter. I later decided, says Akhter, to ask my friend to hire me as an agent, which he readily did.

From earning 2000 rupees a day, he now earns 250 rupees to feed his family of three.

“I don’t have any regrets about my business,” Akhter says in a firm tone. “But it sends shivers down my spine when I realize that I won’t be able to give a good life to my lone child,” he tells in a stumbling voice.

 

LEFT COLLEGE TO FEED THE FAMILY:

Twenty-three-year-old Rahul Gupta is five feet and five inches tall with his belly bludgeoning out, wearing a silver coated chain in the neck and a watch with red straps around his left wrist. He feels that he has grown up too fast.

Rahul’s father Dev Raj Gupta, 54, was once a prominent wholesaler of grocery items in Pul Doda. In 2008, Rahul was studying in seventh class in a prominent private school in Doda town, but after migration he was enrolled in a government school because his father couldn’t afford the fees.

He finished his senior secondary school in 2013 and dropped his plans to continue his study as his father’s health continued to deteriorate.

Rahul along with his elder brother Ankush Gupta set up a shanty made up of tin near Neeru bridge at Pul Doda selling tea, snacks and cigarettes to passengers commuting between Jammu-Bhaderwah and Kishtwar.

“When you have six persons to feed and a sick father, you can go to any extent and I chose to drop out of college,” he says.

Muhammad Imran Malik is a year older than Rahul but shares the same fate as a result of dam-induced displacement. Like Rahul, he also dropped his plans of attending a college after passing 12th standard in 2012 to assist his father in running a roadside kiosk serving food to drivers and motor mechanics. 

Imran remembers himself as an ambitious boy who wanted to join state civil services and work for the betterment of the people, but before he could realize his dreams, the displacement pushed his family into poverty forcing him to drop out.

He is now working hard to educate his 19-year-old brother Asif Malik so that he fulfills his dream of becoming a civil servant. But he fears that the uncertain future of his work and the poverty may even force his brother to drop out.

“That will be a huge blow for me and my family after the migration,” he adds in a trembling voice.