On Nainital outskirts, a ‘Sri Lanka’ prepares to survive monsoon, cut-off from the world
Some journalists who saw the village from a helicopter during floods in 1984 had termed it ‘Sri Lanka’. They found the village, spread over some 45 hectares, and surrounded by water from three sides and by forest on the other, similar in shape as the island nation located in the Indian Ocean.dehradun Updated: Jun 27, 2017 20:27 IST
In the administrative maps, the tiny village located in the Lalkuan-Bindukhatta area of Nainital district in Uttarakhand and registered as Rawat Nagar Khuriyakhatta is just a blip.
Some journalists who saw the village from a helicopter during floods in 1984 had termed it ‘Sri Lanka’. They found the village, spread over some 45 hectares, and surrounded by water from three sides and by forest on the other, similar in shape as the island nation located in the Indian Ocean.
The residents, however, prefer to call their tiny hamlet ‘Kalapani’. They have their reasons for comparing their home to the cellular jail in the water-locked Andaman and Nicobar islands, where the British used to exile their political prisoners.
For nearly three months of the monsoon, the village remains cut off from the rest of the civilisation. The raging water of River Guala turns it into an island. There is no bridge to connect the village to the outside world.
Chairman of Lalkuan nagar panchayat, Ram Babu Mishra, says that there is no proposal for building a bridge.
The village, situated on the periphery of the hill state’s most popular tourist town, also doesn’t have electricity supply. Mishra claims that local BJP MLA Naveen Dumka was looking into the issue of getting a solar power plant installed at the village.
The 120 votes that the village holds probably don’t matter much for the political parties. It can be gauged from the fact that the successive governments have failed to connect the settlement with the main land in the last nearly four decades.
It was in 1979 when people started settling here after clearing a part of the forest land. The settlement is now home to 42 families with a total population of 175 members. The residents are dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry. They have also formed a cooperative that collects milk produced in the village and supplies it to Lalkuan. But that is only during the other nine months. During the monsoons, most of the milk that remains after consumption by the locals goes waste.
With the first rains this season, the villagers have started preparing for the next three months.
Kedar Singh Dasauni, who tills one acre land on the “island”, says two or three people from the village work in the factories in Rudrapur and Pantnagar. “They, however, shun work during the monsoon months and stay back in the village. Once the monsoon is over, they again move out in search of employment,” Dasuni says.
The farmer says the village turns into ‘Kalapani’ for them during monsoons. “We cannot move out and our lives are restricted to only cooking food and eating it leisurely at our homes. We remain dependent on kerosene lamps for light,” he adds.
Ramesh Singh Rana, who heads the milk cooperative committee of the village, reminisces how his son had a close shave with death some 12 years ago. “I fell ill during the monsoons. My son wanted to get medicines for me and tried to cross the swollen river. He was swept away by the strong current. Fortunately, some people downstream saw him flailing in the water and rescued him,” Rana says.
Since then he has not allowed his family members to venture out during those three months.
As the villagers prepare for the worst again, the district administration has done what it does every year. District Magistrate, Nainital, Deependra Chaudhary visited the village a few days ago and handed over ration and kerosene to the villagers to see them through the next three months. The DM also surveyed the village and decided on a spot where helicopters could land in case of emergency.
The villagers blame political apathy for their condition. The political leaders pass the buck.
Beena Joshi, the state Congress Committee member from Lalkuan, says they have submitted several memorandums with the state government for constructing a bridge to the village, but nothing has happened. She also claims that a proposal to set up a solar power plant is pending.
In the 17 years of Uttarakhand’s existence, Joshi’s party has ruled the state for 10 years.
The ruling BJP, meanwhile, claims that it is working towards solving the problems faced by the villagers. Bhagat Singh Koshyari, the BJP MP from Nainital, claims he is making efforts for setting up a solar plant at “Sri Lanka Taapu” for providing electricity to the residents. “We have been exploring the possibility of building a bridge to the village. But creating a bridge with such a long span (of nearly 500 metres) might not be technically feasible. We are, however, looking at the possibilities so that the people do not have to suffer in the future,” says Koshyari.