Residents of Chhattisgarh's Lakha village, displaced for construction of Kelo Dam, vow to boycott BJP in polls
Nearly a decade has passed since the Kelo Dam was constructed in Chhattisgarh, but many displaced villagers are waiting to get full compensation from the BJP government that took over their land.
Raigarh: Around 10 kilometers from Raigarh Railway Station lies the new Lakha village, which the Chhattisgarh government had carved out about a decade ago after displacing around 400 households from the low-lying area of erstwhile Lakha, around 3 kilometers from Raigarh.
The BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh government had completely evacuated the old village, located near the Kelo river, and shifted the villagers to the new location in an elevated area. This, as the ambitious Kelo Dam project came up in the region where the old Lakha village was located. As many as 186 joint families lived in this village. While the residents of Lakha and Dhanot villages were completely displaced when the Kelo Dam was built in 2012, residents of three other villages were partially affected.
The new Lakha village is now juxtaposed to the Raigarh-Ambikapur State Highway and is plagued by fly-ash and industrial dust from the nearby steel industries. Commuters also find it hard to travel by the poorly constructed road. After being moved from the low-lying fertile land to a new area, which lacks any agricultural properties or water resources, the villagers feel cheated by the incumbent BJP government in Chhattisgarh. As a result, many in Lakha have vowed to boycott the BJP, which, they allege, never cared for them.
Sashika Gadtia, a resident of Lakha village, had lost her land when they were moved to the new location. Nearly a decade has passed, but she is still waiting to get full compensation from the Chhattisgarh government. As a result, Sashika said she is determined to boycott the BJP during the Assembly elections, as it was Chief Minister Raman Singh’s party that had deprived the villagers of their rights and nearly ruined the lives of many.
"I am ready to wave black flags at BJP leaders who visit our village for campaigning. It is the BJP government that ruined our lives. We were happily living in the low-lying Lakha village. It had a river nearby, fertile land, ponds and wells. The new village neither has fertile soil and farming land, nor ample water," she said.
She also said she was handed a cheque of Rs 6 lakh by the chief minister himself during his Vikas Yatra ahead of the polls, but she had received only Rs 2 lakh when she converted it at the bank. She claimed it was a "fake cheque".
Sashika isn't alone in opening up about her woes and firing shots against the BJP.
Lalit Gupta, another aggrieved person from the Lakha village, said he has dues amounting to Rs 7.5 lakh from the BJP government in Chhattisgarh. "Besides the pending compensation, the village has suffered a lot. The new area lies near the highway, which is highly polluted with a lot of dust. The children are also facing the impact of the displacement. There are few amenities here to support our livelihood."
Farmers worst hit
Villagers claim that the farmers who owned land in the old Lakha village were the worst hit, as they had lost their entire means of living to the dam built on the Kelo river, a tributary of the Mahanadi river in the drought-prone Raigarh district.
"Most farmers lost their lands. In our old village, we would grow vegetables among other crops. The soil was very fertile. But in the new village, the soil is not fit for agriculture. The water from borewells is used for electricity, as well," said Kanu Ram, a septuagenarian resident of the village.
Others allege that the BJP government had taken over fertile lands, and compensations were handed out hurriedly at low prices. Many villagers said that during the displacement phase, authorities had promised them higher prices for the lands acquired, but that never came through.
Gopal Agrawal, who is well-versed with the process of compensation and had been keeping track of all announcements, documentation and sanctions, has been going from pillar to post at government offices, seeking justice.
"As per the government's own figures, around 400 households were displaced. While all of them got plots in the new area for houses, no one has been compensated for their abadi kshetra (land). I have been keeping track of this and following up, but in vain," he said, adding that the government has yet to hand over Rs 500 crore to the village.
"I was entitled to Rs 11 lakh for my land. The government had been boasting that they are doing vikas (development). What kind of vikas are they doing if the people who lost their land have not been compensated yet?" Agrawal asked.
Many elders also said there were anomalies in the disbursement of compensation. "When the compensation provided was examined during the displacement process, many fertile areas were shown as wastelands and were declined for compensation," another villager said.
The villagers said they have been receiving subsidised rice from the Chhattisgarh government — 7 kilograms per person, per month. Many questioned that while other dam-displaced villages in Chhattisgarh had been compensated, why was the BJP government subjecting Lakha and Dhanot villages to such step-motherly behaviour and then aggressively campaigning for the elections.
The villagers said the name 'Lakha' was derived from two words — 'La' and 'Kha', which denote the tendency and virtue of the village to be able to use and consume resources from the nearby forest. Their proximity to natural resources from all sides in the old village had made the villagers self-sufficient.
Industrial waste drained into Kelo Dam
Environmentalists are miffed over the Kelo Dam, which was envisaged for irrigation purposes and to support the nearby industries. They allege that the project is hardly giving importance to irrigation, even after so many years have passed since the construction of the dam was completed.
Noted environmentalist from Raigarh, Ramesh Agrawal said: "When the government proposed to build the dam, it had promised to give water to the nearby villages for irrigation. But around six years have passed, and not a single canal has been constructed for irrigation. The government, however, has ensured that water from the dam goes to the industries."
Activists also alleged that the nearby industries had turned the dam into a drain, dumping their waste into the water and making it increasingly polluted. Scrutiny and checks for such actions are negligent here, they claimed.
The author is a Bhubaneswar-based freelance writer and member of 101Reporters.com
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