Two polling booths with different tales | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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Two polling booths with different tales

chandigarh Updated: Oct 19, 2012 23:15 IST
Naresh K Thakur

These two polling booths in Kangra district have different tales. One is situated deep in the Himalayas while the second is a tiny island surrounded by waters of Maharana Pratap Sagar (Pong Dam reservoir).

Bada Bhangal, the remotest area in the hill state, and Kuther, the island, both are same in one way - development means nothing for the inhabitants of these two.

While over 500 inhabitants of Bada Bhangal are battling with the forest department for rights on the forests and rights to use pastureland which they depend upon for livelihood since unknown time. Around 150 occupants in Kuthera have no legal rights on their ancestral land to live.

Accessibility is the biggest problems in Bada Bhangal as well as Kuthera. While one has to trek for three days through high passes to reach Bada Bhangal, the latter is accessible only by crossing the dam water on locally made boats.

It was in 2007 elections to the state assembly that a polling booth was set up at Bara Bhangal for the first time and the polling party had landed there through a chopper. Earlier, people used to trek 72 kilometers through 4654 meter high Thamsar Pass or travel over 300 kilometre via Chamba to reach Bir near Baijnath to cast their votes.

There were 48 electors in Bhangal in the last assembly polls, while this time the number is 43. Though a polling station was set up five years ago, but it brought hardly any change in the lives of people living there.

"During the 2009 general elections not a single vote was cast in the polling booth. People here
had boycott the elections as their demand of excluding their ancestral land from sanctuary area fell to deaf years. Our representative has failed in taking up the issue before the Centre," said social activist Akshay Jasrotia.

Jasrotia said that the accessibility problem was never addressed and the trek to the village which was earlier maintained by the Public Works Department (PWD) is now in depleted state.

"What to say about the health services when there is no road or proper path. Two footbridges on Ravi River and its tributary Kalihani on the way to Holi in Chamba are still to be constructed," said Jasrotia, adding that the hostel facility for the children of the village, who shift to the school in Bir during winter, was closed for no reason.

Same is the plight of Kuthera, where 94 people will cast their votes. The polling booth was set up during the 2009 general elections.

The children of this island go to a school in Dhameta village by crossing the dam water in boats. When the water level in the reservoir rises during the monsoon, students put their lives on risk just to continue their study.

Kuthera was once a beautiful village having the most fertile land in Kangra district, but when Pong Dam was built in early 1970s, most the village was submerged in the water.

The people affected by Pong Dam were promised to get them settled in clusters (village-wise) in Rajasthan, but no government or politician kept this promise to rehabilitate them and their identity has been deleted from the revenue records.

Villagers possess voter identity cards and ration cards, but no legal rights of land as everything falling under the reservoir has been transferred to Bhakra Beas Management Board in the revenue records. "There is no electricity, no drinking water facility, school or dispensary in my village," said Rakesh, adding that a hand pump that was installed in the village a decade ago has dried up.