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Village Submerged, Livelihood Lost: Vyasi Hydel Power Project Crushing Lohari Residents
Vyasi Hydroelectric Project on Yamuna River is soon going to start generating electricity in Uttarakhand. This 120-megawatt station is part of the 420 MW Lakhwar-Vyasi project
Photo Credit : Abhishek Sharma
Lohari village, Uttarakhand
Sharmila Tomar's story is haunting and painful as several others of Lohari village of district Dehradun, Uttarakhand. She used to live in a small house with her family including children. But, now there is water all around and the entire area has been submerged.
On April 5, the lives of Lohari residents were turned upside down, when the government officials visited and put up a 48-hour notice period to vacate the village. Also, after some time water from the Vyasi dam reached the spot which led to the submergence of ancestral homes and newly built houses.
"Patwari, Kanungo, Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) along with the police force came and gave us 48-hour notice to leave the entire village. They came with bulldozers and destroyed our houses. We couldn't even take all of our belongings and now the water is all around. Where we will go, what we will do, we do not have any idea," said Sharmila, who is Deputy Pradhan of Bagi Gram Panchayat, Uttarakhand.
Sharmila explained how all of them couldn't eat for at least three days due to the mental toll of the ongoing situation and lack of proper resources to arrange food. She said that now the residents are living like a joint family in the old school building which is also at risk. We just have each other at this point and together we will fight the situation, she told BW Businessworld.
The work of filling water in the Vyasi dam (Vyasi Hydroelectric Project on Yamuna River), which was completed in village Juddo, Uttarakhand, is now at the final stage. As the water level increased, it reached Lohari village and caused havoc. This project is soon going to start generating electricity in Uttarakhand. This 120-megawatt station is part of the 420 MW Lakhwar-Vyasi project.
Vyasi Hydroelectric Project, village- Juddo, Uttarakhand | Picture: Abhishek Sharma/BW Businessworld
After that what followed is a flood of tears, politics and a constant blame game. The local residents are furious and heartbroken and blame the authorities for neglecting the community. The government machinery is pressuring us to leave the area and go somewhere else, but we are not going to go without giving a tough fight for our living rights, residents told BW Businessworld.
Pratima Tomar, Pradhan, Bagi Gram Panchayat said, "We (Pradhan and her husband) visited the village when residents were evaluating and since then we have been there four times. I told Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam (UJVN), a power generation company, to provide them drinking water and temporary shelter facilities so they can protect themselves along with their belongings."
"I urged Sub-Divisional Magistrate Saurabh Aswal to make proper arrangements for them. On a personal level we can only take their voice forward as in Panchayat we do not have enough budget to assist them financially," Pratima explained.
Some of the belongings, Lohari village, Uttarakhand | Picture: Abhishek Sharma/BW Businessworld
According to the residents, the government has promised them compensation for their loss so they can buy land in nearby areas of their choice, however, money is yet to reach them.
"They all are lying, as of now we got only around Rs 2 to 2.4 lakh, however, we are not aware that this is the compensation for our homes which were destroyed by them or land that is now underwater or it is for our daily needs. They just transferred the money without any proper clarification," said Gajendra Singh Chauhan, a local resident.
Gajendra said that from 1970 to the present time, they (the earlier generation) have received a total amount of Rs 9 lakh, which is already utilised by our ancestors. This amount is not enough to sustain.
However, Saurabh Aswal, Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) said, "We did not use any bulldozers (JCB) at all. We allocated proper time to them so they could take out belongings and they collected everything. The UJVN are supposed to auction several things of the village but residents even collected those which were not allowed as they already got the compensation."
Lohari village, Uttarakhand | Picture: Abhishek Sharma/BW Businessworld
We gave them two to three extra days, workers, JCBs and trucks to take out their belongings, Aswal said. He added, "Residents already received the money. Initially, they were not ready to provide us with their account number however, UJVN has deposited money in their accounts (those who provided). For people who refused to share account numbers, we arranged a cheque facility and informed them to take their money. But they are not following these calls. A total of Rs 15 crore has been distributed for their rehabilitation and losses."
Loss of livelihood, agricultural items:
The villagers are mostly dependent on agriculture for their livelihood which seems to have come to a halt. They alleged that before they could evacuate all their wheat, agricultural items and other belongings, water reached the gate and they had to leave many things behind.
"We cultivate wheat, ginger and vegetables like ladyfinger, garlic etc, and everything is destroyed by the water and we blame authorities for this. They did not allow us more time to evacuate. We are constantly facing negligence and after this incident, we are managing all by ourselves," said Pramila Chauhan, a 35 years old resident.
Inside Lohari village, Uttarakhand | Picture: Abhishek Sharma/BW Businessworld
"They cut the electricity on the first day, however, reconnected later. Our drinking water pipeline is disturbed which we fixed ourselves as there was no assistance from authorities," said Naresh Chauhan, President, Yamuna Ghati Bandh (Lakhwad- Vyas) Prabhavit Samiti, Lohari.
Naresh explained that if they give us Rs 1 crore, the rates of land in a nearby city (Vikas Nagar) are Rs 50 lakh per bigha, so all our money will go into the land purchase, after that how we will build new houses? Where will we do farming? So authorities should come up with a proper rehabilitation plan so we can get settled without any major inconvenience.
"We also have animals like Buffalo, Cattles and other domestic animals which are part of our daily life and provide us with necessary things. The situation is so intense that we have shifted them to our relatives' houses who live a bit far from this area. Some people have pushed their animals to the forest with a heavy heart," said Gajendra.
Mothers and children:
Meanwhile, all the residents have taken shelter in the old primary school. Men of the village sleep in an open sky, while women are in the corridor along with little children.
"Some of our children go to school in Vikasnagar and they live in our relatives' homes. Some live with their friends, that is how we are adjusting to things. However, after the village got destroyed, our kids are not able to study properly. They have so many memories attached to this village. It is not easy to see them like that," Rekha Devi, a 42 years old mother, said with teary eyes.
Women sitting on stairs of old primary school, Lohari village, Uttarakhand | Picture: Abhishek Sharma/BW Businessworld
For the mothers, the major concerns are their little children, as they can catch diseases like dengue and fever and sometimes wild reptiles like snakes can enter the area to cause medical emergencies.
"Just imagine if our child falls sick in these unhygienic conditions in which they are forced to live, what will we do? No one from the government came here to check if we are doing alright or not. There are several females here and we do not have toilets for us," Promila said in an angry tone.
One resident informed BW Businessworld that Natho Devi, in her mid-60s couldn't bear the burden of the intense situation and is now facing mental trauma. Her family took her away for medical treatment. However, many families fear a similar fate, especially for the young population of the village.
What villagers want:
Naresh said that they were and are ready to rehabilitate but they are not ready to settle down in a scattered manner. "We want to make sure that we shift to a location where we can rehabilitate our entire village. We are not ready to go in different ways. This is our fight to protect our heritage, culture and unity. We are asking authorities to give us land in nearby areas, we will live there only and from there we can also keep an eye on the land that we still have left," Naresh said.
An area where residents discuss about the developments, Lohari village, Uttarakhand | Picture: Abhishek Sharma/BW Businessworld
While talking about the entire situation, Congress leader Pritam Singh also showed his disappointment in how things unfolded. He said, "When this project started Lohari village came under a submerged area. At that time Congress party was in the government. When we came to know about the situation, we increased the compensation from Rs 26 lakh per hectare to Rs 75 lakh per hectare."
Our aim was to provide employment opportunities to youths of 57 families through Uttaranchal Jal Vidyut Nigam (UJVN). In 2017, we also tried to provide them land (of skill department) in Jeevangarh, Vikas Nagar and it was decided by the cabinet. However, the new BJP government postponed that plan. Hence, residents expected to get the land later, he alleged.
The residents also blame Munna Singh Chauhan, who is a Member of the Uttarakhand legislative assembly for the destruction that they are facing right now.
"The entire village was against this project, but Munna Singh who destroyed our lives and village had promised so many things to us initially, but now he is behaving completely opposite. He sought only 15 days from us to make things normal. However, now one can see where we are," said Pramila.
Pramila said that during elections he came for votes and made several promises. He also requested us to vote for his wife Madhu Chauhan, who is President of Zilla Panchayat. Now both of them have abandoned us.
Villagers drew a comparison with the rehabilitation of locals affected due to the Tehri dam project. According to the residents, they were allotted land and money, however, for us, authorities are not allocating any piece of land where we can perform agricultural activities.
Meanwhile, BW Businessworld tried to reach Munna Singh Chauhan; however, he did not attend the call. Madhu Chauhan, the wife of Chauhan, remained unreachable.
Vimal Dabral, Public Relations Officer, UJVN said, "We have released the money under rehabilitation and resettlement policy along with that we have also provided them with financial assistance. They received money 5.5 times more than the circle rate (decided by the government) according to the land residents lost."
Official notice by Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam | Source: UJVN website
The public works department (PWD) estimated the cost of every building and we gave them 2.5 times compensation for that. Also, the horticulture department measured the cost of trees that they lost and we provided monetary assistance also. We have allocated Rs 25,000 for those who are involved in animal husbandry to build shelter, Dabral said.
Dabral added that according to my knowledge we have released a total of Rs 15 crore. We got this project from the irrigation department and the land acquisition is already finished after giving them compensation initially. Hence, the irrigation department transferred that legally acquired land to us.
When BW Businessworld visited Lohari village on 15 April, there was a sense of disappointment and anger among the residents. From children to adolescents and adults to old, each and everyone is anxious about the future as uncertainty follows.
"We have no idea where we will go now. For ages, authorities and political leaders have been saying that they will help us. But so far no strong assistance has come from them. We are stranded here in this school with children, old people and females. So far we are uncertain about our future," said Pramila.
Talking about the future and rehabilitation of residents, Dabral said we have made arrangements for them and for their rehabilitation we are ready to provide the required assistance to them.
Meanwhile, uneasiness and many questions are hitting the minds of these residents, some have little children to take care of and some of them have their old parents to protect.