Fire at Bathinda refinery reignites villagers’ demand for relocation

  • Sachin Sharma, Hindustan Times, Bathinda
  • Updated: Jun 21, 2014 10:17 IST

The fire at the Guru Gobind Singh refinery in Phullokhari village, near here, has again brought to the fore Kanakwal village residents’ demand for their relocation.

The villagers have been seeking relocation ever since the refinery started functioning in April 2012, citing air pollution and the possibility of a major industrial mishap.

Their demand gained strength after a fire broke out in the refinery in April last year.

Subsequently, then Punjab chief secretary Rakesh Singh had visited the village to get feedback from villagers. A majority of the families in the village, which has a population of about 3,000, had expressed their willingness to shift to some other place. The government had also started a search for land for this purpose, but the process was stopped abruptly.

With the Talwandi Sabo assembly segment — which includes Kanakwal and Phullokhari villages — set to witness a byelection next month, the issue has resurfaced prominently. The bypoll has been necessitated by then sitting MLA Jeet Mohinder Singh Sidhu’s decision to quit the Congress and join the Shiromani Akali Dal in March.

Kanakwal residents had on June 3 again raised the demand before chief minister Parkash Singh Badal during his sangat darshan in the village. On the CM’s directions, a team of officials led by his special principal secretary KJS Cheema had visited the village to hear residents’ views. However, as divergent views were aired during the interaction, the district administration opted for a doorto-door survey. The exercise was conducted over four days.

The survey of all 400 households revealed that most residents wanted compensation and were keen to relocate on their own, rather than expecting the state government to build houses for them at a suitable place.

After Friday’s blasts, many residents of Phullokhari have also come forward in support of the demand for relocation. Jagjit Singh, a resident, said the incident had forced many villagers to think about relocation, even though there was no consensus on the issue.

Bathinda deputy commissioner Basant Garg said he had briefed the chief minister’s office about the findings of the survey. He added that the state government would take the final call on any decision regarding the relocation of villagers.

Kanakwal residents had boycotted the zila parishad and block samiti polls in May 2013 over this issue.

Then, they had boycotted the elections for sarpanch in June last year. In the second round of sarpanch elections in October, Sukhmani Singh, who was the only candidate in the fray, had been elected.

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