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Land sharks change course of rivulets
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, August 3
The plunder of the ecologically fragile Shivalik foothills in Punjab continues unabated. Unscrupulous residents are altering the course of rivulets to suit their own ends while land-hungry persons are either buying the rights to these stream beds from poor villagers or illegally occupying the same.

In a shocking development occurring less than 10 km from the seat of the Punjab Government residents are constructing their own diversions and stone walls to change the natural course of rivulets which come down the Shivaliks across the districts of Mohali and Ropar. There seems to be little official hindrance to such activities. In fact, official connivance in these activities is openly being alleged.

Hundreds of acres that form the bed of these numerous choes is being used as personal land, thanks to diversions. This has happened as many of the these rivulets do not carry the same amount of water as before. Under a World Bank-aided project the waters were harnessed. The process of building dams was completed about five or six years ago. The rivulets do not hold the threat of washing away anything as the release of water is now controlled at the dams. Only a small amount of water flows in these rivulets due to localised rain.

With the fear of water gone, these beds constitute the cheapest possible land available in Punjab, where otherwise the land prices are skyrocketing and have touched nearly Rs 1 crore an acre along the main roads and near urban areas. Here, land is available for no more than Rs 10 lakh to Rs 15 lakh per acre.

A Tribune team visited a few villages along the border of Haryana in Mohali district today and found that natural passages for walking in villages had vanished, forcing people to wade through deeper parts of the rivulets. Just two days ago heavy rain brought in a gush of water and with sections of the bed being obstructed with stone abutments, the water changed course drastically, even hitting the periphery of small villages. A villager said two days ago a car was caught in the water as the rivulet had changed course. The driver left the car mid-stream and ran to save his life. The car was latter pulled out with the help of a tractor.

The greed is triggered as this area will be very close to the Siswan-Baddi road link which is coming up. Sadly, no bridges exist in the area and vehicles, people and cattle still have to pass through these rivulets. Ironically, in adjoining villages of Haryana the roads are metalled and bridges have been built.

Explaining how the system works, a source said an owner, even if it happens to be the panchayat of the village, can sell its share to an individual. In the case of government land it cannot be sold or occupied. In its typical lackadaisical approach, the government has not even carried out a survey to identify its land and the illegal occupation.

The biggest loss is to ecology and to the natural habitat of small animals like the tortoise and reptiles. The Punjab Environment Report, 2005, which quotes a study by the Zoological Survey of India, says the number of several species in the Shivaliks is dropping fast as their habitat is vanishing. In April The Tribune had reported on how farmhouses were being built on dried-up beds of streams.





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