A visit to old Tehri, which may soon be submerged by the Bhilangana and the Bhagirathi, reveals that the issue of rehabilitation is still to be tackled.
Old Tehri town ... talking about compensation and the safety of the dam
OLD TEHRI township, with all its culture, history and dreams of men like Sunderlal Bahuguna, is gasping for breath. This may be its last summer! The swollen waters of the Bhilangana and the Bhagirathi have begun to engulf it and by mid-July the city will have been submerged. A visit to the "drowning" township showed that rehabilitation was far from complete.
Recently there were red flags fluttering all over and people were huddled in two groups land and house owners on the one hand and tenants on the other in a last desperate bid to get the visiting team of journalists to write about their travails. Sunderlal Bahuguna and his band of followers are still hoping for a miracle and that old Tehri will survive. But what is more important is that rehabilitation is completed quickly and efficiently.
The dam, according to the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC) officials, will affect 37 villages fully and 88 partially. Nearly, 5,200 hectares of land will be submerged and 5,291 urban families affected. Some 2,500 people were lucky to receive compensation for their houses and land between 1983 and 1988. Since the allotment of plots was taken up only seven years later, much of the money they received was spent on daily necessities and other odds and ends.
The chairman of the THDC, M.L. Gupta, has made an assurance that every villager ousted from his land will be given two acres of land and every house owner of the doomed town, 200 square metre plots. The rehabilitation work, which was earlier coordinated alongwith the THDC, has now been handed over to the Uttaranchal Government and the district magistrate, he maintains. But the local administration says it still rests with the THDC.
The whole resettlement/rehabilitation theory of relocating clusters in homogenous settlements so that they do not feel like aliens in a strange land, has been given the short shrift at Tehri. While 900 acres have been acquired at Pashulok, near Rishikesh, 2,500 acres have been acquired at Pathri block of Hardwar. The land here is said to be barren.
"This is a dam built with our tears," says Sunderlal Bahuguna, looking frailer and more gaunt than he was in the last two decades when the battle against the construction of the Tehri dam was at its peak. The hut from which he was conducting his battles has already been submerged and only his ancestral home remains. Other family members have taken their share of compensation and moved out but the old man refuses to go.
How does the State compensate the close to 500 people doing business in old Tehri. Cloth merchant Jamnalal said he had received a compensation of Rs. 60,000, with which he would never be able to buy a house or set up a shop. Carpenter Ramprasad, whose shop of 1983 was licensed till 2005, has not been allotted a place to go to. He is worried about the wooden artifacts he has collected over the years. Gopal Singh, ward no 1, house no 1, is a businessman but he has not even been offered compensation so far. Kartar Singh, a refugee from Pakistan who settled in Tehri in 1949, is desolate. He has a cloth making business and helps his son run a restaurant. Moving out is like going through the whole trauma of Partition all over again, he says. He too is dissatisfied with his compensation package. A lakh of people who live in the villages adjoining old Tehri still depend on the city for their livelihood. They sell milk, vegetables and grass to the city. It would take them a whole day to reach the new Tehri township, making it impossible to keep their produce fresh.
Thirty per cent of those having to leave their homes have got less than Rs. 20,000 as compensation. Is it possible today to get anything for such a small amount? Eleven per cent received between Rs. 20,000 and Rs. 80,000 and 14 families Rs. 5 lakhs and above.
There is also a tremendous difference in the rates of compensation paid to homes on either side of the small road. While houses on one side have received compensation at the rate of Rs. 5 a sq.ft, the others have got Rs. 30 a sq.ft.
A young man showed us a photocopy of a cheque for Rs. 46, all the compensation he had received for the land acquired for the dam. Another man showed us a photocopy of a cheque for Rs. 88.20, for his old, traditional home.
Of course there are allegations of people getting compensation, then coming back and claiming money again. A woman activist claimed that 35 widows had not received any compensation because there was no one to help them chase the official machinery responsible for settling compensations. There was even a widow who got just Rs. 7,000 as compensation, while her brother received Rs. 3 lakhs for property of about the same size.
The cost of a two-room unit in new Tehri, a township of concrete blocks built on the hillslopes, is Rs. 4.28 lakhs. The residents of Tehri plead that they should receive a two-roomed unit as compensation or the cost of one. Mr. Gupta of course made the assurance that everyone will be rehabilitated but the point is when will it happen?
There are still two petitions pending before the Supreme Court one on the safety of the dam and the other on compensation.
Yet it is not as though money has not been earmarked or spent on compensation. Till the end of August last year, out of the funds earmarked for rehabilitation, Rs. 582 crores had been spent. When the district headquarters moved to new Tehri in 1989, Rs. 47 lakhs was spent on building the residence of the district magistrate, Rs. 43 lakhs on that of the police superintendent and Rs. 92 lakhs on the field hostel for the officials. Also, Rs. 67.5 crores was spent on roads, a little over Rs. 20 crores on developing house sites, Rs. 34 crores on drinking water and sewage and Rs. 7 crores on electrification. Compensation for acquired land and houses to be submerged was only Rs. 94 crores.
Yet once in three days there is no drinking water in new Tehri. Money meant for rehabilitation is being spent on supplying water to the city.
About 200 metres of the 260 metre high dam has been constructed. A colossal Rs. 900 crores has been spent on constructing the dam complex, way above the Rs. 305.16 crores estimated in 1974. Some 2,400 mega watts of power will be generated by the THDC. Water is to be supplied to four million in Delhi and three million in western Uttar Pradesh in addition to irrigating vast tracts of land.
But there is a lot of speculation on the filling up of the reservoir. With the Gangotri Glacier, the main source of the Bhagirathi, receding at the rate of 18 metres a year, how much water will be available for the reservoir? According to a study by the Jawaharlal Nehru University, it had receded 800 metres in 40 years. With global warming, the melting of the glaciers may be further accelerated.
Despite all the assurances given by the dam authorities and the Russian engineers who have helped in constructing the dam, fears persist. Built on a fragile, earthquake prone area of the Himalayas, cities upto Delhi face danger should the dam burst.
Yet the madness of big dams, with the trauma they bring in their trail, persists.
Some 38 more dams are being proposed for Uttaranchal!
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