Roads undoubtedly are the lifeline in the hills, but the two four-laning projects across the state seem to be bringing more misery than succour to thousands of people who are getting uprooted and losing their livelihood.
Even as there is a virtual clamour amongst ‘netas’ to take credit for getting the 167-km Kiratpur-Manali and 90- km Parwanoo-Shimla four-laning projects and 69 national highways (NH) approved for the state, there is a simmering discontent among the affected families. “Ye to vikas ke naam per vinaash hai. Har ghar ki ladai court me ladi jaa rahi hai (This is destruction in the name of development. People from every home are fighting their battle in the court),” remarks Bhagat Ram, who runs a shop in Aut market. His entire family has lost 60 bighas of land, home and shop and they are faced with a bleak future.
The grouse of the people is that the state government is diluting the provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Re-settlement Act, 2013, in the projects being executed by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI). This, naturally, has the people up in arms against the state government, as they are fighting for their rights under the banner of “Four-lane Sangharsh Samiti.”
Even as the affected families continue to voice their concerns and demand a fair deal, the political parties, be it the Congress or the BJP, seem to be quite unconcerned, as for them people are nothing more than a vote bank, which they try to woo, every time elections are round the corner.
Even though both the Congress and BJP, in their election manifesto and vision document, respectively, had tried to entice the affected families by promising to give them ‘factor two’, which would entitle them to get four-time the compensation that they have been assured of, the promise is yet to be fulfilled.
What has irked people even more is the fact that while it is the Centre (Ministry of Road Transport and Highways), which is providing the land-compensation rates, the state government is reluctant to apply the ‘factor two’, which will entitle the claimants to better land-compensation rates. The present regime seems to be treading the same path taken by the previous Congress government in not applying ‘factor two’ to save itself from giving higher rates for its own state roads to be constructed by the Public Works Department.
The worst-affected villages include Thalot, Aut, Panarsa, Takioli, Nagwauin, Jhirri, Jiya and Dador. Almost 90 per cent of the market in Thalot, Aut, Panasra and Dador will be wiped off and most people have already vacated their homes and shops.
Considering the immense tourism potential in the Mandi-Kullu-Manali area, the land along the road has high commercial value for hotels, restaurants and eco resorts, many of which will be wiped off to make way for the project. “We felt that the British-era Land Acquisition Act was a draconian law, but the new Act of 2013 seems no different, as we are being meted out a raw deal by the government, which is giving us a pittance as land compensation,” said Brajesh Mahant of Jhirri village.
“Seeing the plight of the displaced families and the attitude of various government agencies, I feel fighting the enemy across the border was easier than facing the present situation,” remarked Brig Kushal Thakur (retired) who commanded the 18 Grenadiers and brought laurels to the country during the Kargil war. He heads the ‘Four- Lane Sangharsh Samiti’ and contests claims of the state government that it had applied factor one to determine the land-compensation rates.
“Only the circle rate is being taken into consideration and not the market rate. Other factors like market value, commercial viability and productivity have not been taken into account by the officials concerned while working out the compensation,” points out Brig Thakur Bahagat Ram (retired), who runs a hardware shop. He says he has received Rs 4.50 lakh per biswa as compensation while the prevailing land rates are almost Rs 10 lakh per biswa.
With road connectivity being a pre-requisite for heralding economic prosperity, it is a normal practice in Himachal for villagers to voluntarily donate land to facilitate the construction of a road. However, the coming up of the four-lane projects and their implementation, and with the financial health of the state being quite grim, providing compensation for the construction of each and every road poses a big question mark.
If the plight of the people is so bad in only two four-laning projects, one can imagine what will happen when 69 national highways will be constructed and land will be acquired for these. As of now, the detailed project reports (DPRs) of the proposed national highways are being prepared, which will determine the extent of land to be acquired and the number of persons to be displaced.
POINTS OF VIEW
Chief Minister JaiRam Thakur
The government is sensitive towards the problems being faced by the people and the last thing we want is development at the cost of public inconvenience. In fact, it is for this reason that we took up the issue of possible changes in four-laning projects, so that people’s houses, shops and agricultural land in the more thickly inhabited areas could be saved. However, we are getting the financial implications of the grant of ‘factor two’ examined to assess where we stand. We have to adopt a holistic approach and see if the state government would be in a position to provide compensation for land at rates higher than ‘factor two’.
Brig Kushal Thakur (retd)
According to the spirit of the Act, post-acquisition, the social and economic status of the displaced families must get enhanced, but in this case it is the other way round. “The law is good in spirit but its poor implementation on ground defeats the entire purpose,” he laments. The people are not opposed to development but they must be given a fair deal. We have given a representation to the state government and are hopeful that talks will be held as finding a solution is not difficult. There is a clear-cut violation of the Act when possession is taken without compensating the party concerned fully, and, more importantly, without rehabilitating the displaced families. I am of the firm opinion that people cannot be evicted till they are rehabilitated. Giving ‘factor one’ is illegal, as per a ruling given by the Maharashtra High Court. Moreover, 14 states are giving more than ‘factor one’ while seven BJP-ruled states are giving ‘factor two’.
Col Yogesh Chandra (retd), project director, NHAI
The cost of the project is estimated to be about Rs 6,000 crore and the completion target is by 2021. We are also keen that the displaced people get adequate compensation and this is being done strictly as per the law. However, whether ‘factor one’ or ‘factor two’ is to be considered to work out the land compensation rates is a decision that will be taken by the state government.
69 proposed national highways
Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari had announced 69 national highways (NH) for Himachal in June 2016. However, the process of appointing consultants is under way for preparation of a detailed project report (DPR) of these roads having a length of 3,800 km. Though the exact quantum of land that will have to be acquired for these NHs will be known after the DPRs is submitted, but is certain that thousands of people will be displaced.
The Centre has already sanctioned of Rs 229.69 crore to get the DPRs of these 69 NHs prepared. CM Jairam Thakur met Gadkari in Delhi on July 17 and requested him that the two NHs of Pathankot-Mandi and Shimla-Matour should also be upgraded to four-lane projects, keeping in view the heavy vehicular movement.
10,000 tenants between Sundernagar and Manali, who fall in the category of livelihood losers, have not been taken into account and identified. Such people have not just been uprooted or displaced but have also lost their livelihood.
12% interest payable from the issuance of date of notification is not being given now, though it was given earlier to some landowners.
60 days’ notice is issued for vacation of premises and an additional seven days are given to remove usable parts like doors and windows. The house owners move out on their own without being re-settled.
Rs 4 lakh has been paid per biswa according to the circle rate.Rs 8- Rs 10 lakh is the prevailing rate per biswa.
What has irked people most is the fact that while it is the Centre (Ministry of Road Transport and Highways), which is providing the land-compensation rates, the state government is reluctant to apply ‘factor two’, which will entitle the claimants to better land-compensation rates. The present regime seems to be treading the same path taken by the previous Congress government.
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