Five decades on, Pong Dam oustees await rehabilitation
Raman Kumar, 25, stares at bleak future as he fights a battle that his father and grandfather could not win.
Five decades ago, his grandfather gave up 10 acres of fertile land for the Pong Dam project that provides irrigation water to Rajasthan. Kumar and his family live on a tiny island without electricity and a school. It has only one hand pump that was installed a few years ago. Except for carrying out seasonal farming on the banks of the Pong lake when the water recedes every winter, Kumar has no other means of earning a livelihood.
The promise of compensation and land to resettle in Rajasthan was never fulfilled.
Rajender Kumar, 55, from Bari village in Fatehpur assembly segment faces a similar fate except that he is from a generation that has seen their homes and land vanish in the water when the reservoir came into existence. He lost five acres to the dam. “The land promised in Rajasthan was never allotted and I’m still fighting for it,” he says.
Kaka Ram, 56, of Lohara village got a meagre ₹3,000 as compensation for two acres, only when he moved the court, but the land is yet to be allotted.
They are among more than 8,000 families displaced due to the construction of the dam and awaiting rehabilitation.
THE DAM OF SORROW
Resettlement of the affected people due to development projects is not a happy experience anywhere, but in this case, it is complex and painful—here the land donor state is not a beneficiary of irrigation facilities or electricity.
The construction of the dam started in 1961 on the Beas near Pong village in Kangra district (then a part of Punjab), so that waters from its reservoir could be taken to the desert lands of Rajasthan and feed the extensive network of canal irrigation system there.
A total area of 75,000 acres, spread over 94 villages in Nurpur and Dehra tehsils, was acquired for the reservoir. Of the acquired 339 tikkas (revenue estates), 223 were submerged fully and 116 partially, displacing 20,722 families and 1.5 lakh population.
The submerged area was the most fertile in Kangra district called Haldoon (granary) Valley.
According to the agreement between Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan, Pong Dam oustees were promised adequate compensation and land in Rajasthan for resettlement. The government identified only 16,352 families for land allotment in Rajasthan.
During the last winter session of the state assembly, chief minister Jai Ram Thakur informed the House that since 1966, 12,198 families have been allotted land in Rajasthan, while the process to allot land to the remaining 4,154 families was going on in a phased manner.
It was informed that of the 12,198 families, 8,180 have already resettled in Rajasthan while the allotment to 4,018 families was cancelled by the Rajasthan government under the Rajasthan Colonisation Rules, 1972. The allotments that have been done were not without the oustees moving the high court and Supreme Court.
According to government data, more than half of the displaced families are still awaiting rehabilitation.
Rajan Sushan, a former Kangra MP, refutes the government claim. He says the number of families rehabilitated in Rajasthan was much lower as many did not get possession while others were forced to flee due to hostility of the local community. “Apart from it, the Rajasthan government kept cancelling allotments on one pretext or another, as the rules framed for allotment were rigid and unfavourable.”
TOO LITTLE TOO LATE
The displaced also did not get adequate compensation. Initially, the price was fixed at ₹140 per kanal (9.7 kanal=1 acre) which was raised to ₹650 per kanal in 1965 and later to ₹1,000. The central government approached the Supreme Court, and in 1983 the price was revised to ₹750 per canal.
Now, the displaced poor find themselves in a quandary. Most of them had already received compensation at the rate of ₹1,000 per kanal and the government had ordered recovery of the differential amount of ₹ 250. Poor people had no money to pay back. They were harassed by the authorities until the state government decided to waive the amount. Still, many were deprived of compensation as they did not know the rules and process to claim it.
“Nobody knows for how many generations, we will have to wait for the compensation and rehabilitation for the land we sacrificed for development,” says Kewal Krishan, a dam oustee.