Tuesday, August 12, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Living in the shadow of death
Pratibha Chauhan and M.C. Thakur
Tribune News Service

Bahang (Manali), August 11
Spending sleepless nights and sitting on the check-dam with their little ones in their arms has become a routine for labourers and their families living in tents and hutments along the Beas here which can anytime come under the swathe of the Podu nullah, right above the settlement.

They spend the nights, especially during a heavy rain, sitting at a safe distance, so that they do not get buried under the debris. Despite two deaths at the site on July 24, the administration has made no efforts to shift these 50 families to a safer location.

“After Reena (24) and her four-year-old son Shankar were buried alive under the debris brought down by the nullah, we are living under a constant threat of death as the rain will continue for another month,” says a Nepali labourer Shantay. Though they heard that they might be asked to shift from here, no official had so far spoken to them, he said.

After the Podu nullah changed its course, claiming two lives, its water is almost touching the wall of the primary school while the high school is located barely a few metres away. The Deputy Commissioner, Kulu, Mr R.D. Nazeem, said Rs 1 lakh had been sanctioned to erect a retaining wall next to the school.

“We know living here virtually means waiting for death, but with no alternate site to move to, we have no choice but to live in the shadow of death,” says a helpless Maya, Nepali woman.

The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) alone has more than 400 persons deployed for the construction of a road to the Rohtang tunnel. “We have directed all project authorities, executing the 28 power projects in Kulu district, to provide us the list of labourers engaged by them, apart from moving them to safer sites,” said Mr Nazeem. He added that the migrant labour was the responsibility of the project authorities while the district authorities were taking care of the local population.

“The district administration is totally indifferent to us simply for the reason that we are not locals. So even if we meet our watery grave here in our huts, they are least bothered,” says Sita, who is from Bihar.

Despite the fact that there have been three calamities at the Kangni, Bahang and Pulia nullahs on the Garsa road in the past 15 days, hardly any efforts have been made by the district administration to move these labourers to safer locations. A visit to the settlements along the Beas indicated that so far no plan had been prepared by either the BRO, the PWD or the district authorities to shift these tents and hutments to safer locations.


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