Guru Gobind Singh oil refinery gave residents of Kanakwal village an identity by bringing it on the national map. But with the passage of time things have come to such a pass that the villagers no more want to live in its neighbourhood.
Following a blast in the sulphur recovery plant near Gate No 3 of the refinery near Kanakwal village on Monday evening, villagers on Tuesday started a dharna on the railway track outside the factory used for transporting petrochemical products.
“We don't want to live here anymore. We want the government to provide us land for rehabilitation somewhere else. We are fed up with living constantly in danger,” said Beant Singh, sarpanch of Kanakwal village.
He said, “After the last evening's blast, we have decided to go somewhere else and want the government to rehabilitate us. The refinery is of no use to us. It did not provide employment to our youth. Instead, it creates air and noise pollution along with the constant danger to our life.”
“The blast has shown that danger looms large over us. The blast was so powerful that people came out of their houses and ran towards the fields to save their lives. It is not for the first time that a fire has broken out in the refinery. It has happened many times in the past,” said Beant.
He said, “It is not only the fire issue. We are also suffering from the pollution created by the refinery. It often gives out a foul smell. Also, the machines create terrible sound, which disturbs our daily life.”
The sarpanch said, “What is the use of bearing so much pain when the project cannot provide jobs to the youth from the village? We have repeatedly demanded that our youths should be given jobs at the refinery to compensate us for the disturbance to our lives. But the demand was declined.”
Tehsildar Avtar Singh, who was sent to pacify the villagers, said, “We have invited villagers for a dialogue. Initially, they were ready to discuss the issue but later they refused. They want rehabilitation at some place away from the refinery. We hope to sort out the matter soon.”
Happier times over
With Gate No 3 of the refinery opening towards Kanakwal, villagers had good relations with the refinery in the past. A large number of labourers would live at Kanakwal at the time of construction. Many villagers gave their land on contract for raising temporary rooms for the labour. Other commercial activity also earned villagers good money during that period.
However, it did not last long; as soon as the construction work was over, most of the labourers left the place, and the villagers had to start living with a working refinery.
Villagers' hopes of getting jobs at the refinery vanished soon as most of the workers employed in the refinery are from other states.
“Once we were proud of the refinery. We never thought it would create so much pain for us. Now we think it was wrong to allow the project so near our houses,” said Mahinder Singh, a villager.