Polls hold hope for Duddhi displaced
Duddhi (Sonbhadra):
Only election results on March 11will tell whether `UP Ko Rahul-Akhilesh Ka Sath Pasand Hai’, but more than 2,000 families in 11 villages facing threat of displacement due to Kanhar Dam project have no doubt. They are rooting for them not because they are fans of the `yuva jodi’, but due to the faith that the duo, if win elections, would help them get adequate compensation and rehabilitation package as per the Land Acquisition Act 2013.Kanhar Irrigation Project is located downstream of the confluence of Rivers Pagan and Kanhar, a tributary of river Sone, near Sugawan village in Dudhi, UP’s last constituency and one of the two reserved for scheduled tribe, in Sonbhadra district, which has history of Naxalism and shares border with Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand.Its an inter-state project, which proposes around three km long earthen dam and will submerge around 4000 hectare of land, forests, in UP , Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Though the project saw protests in all the three states, it did not become an issue in the ongoing UP elections. As a result, villagers decided to take it forward themselves. “I sought time to meet Rahul Gandhi on Sunday when he had come to address election rally along with Akhilesh Yadav . Rahul ji not only gave a patient hearing, but also assured that he will do whatever he can to get justice for the family facing displacement threat,“ said Gambheera Prasad, head of the Kankar Bandh Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, an association formed by locals to oppose construction of the dam. Other villagers, cutting across all castes and faiths, too have com plete faith in the Land Acquisi tion Act 2013, which they said was now their only hope, besides courts. When asked it was the Samajwadi Party government under Akhilesh Yadav which resumed the project, Raju Gond, a local tribal, claimed “It was not Akhilesh, but his uncle’s `karnama’.“ Shivpal Yadav as irrigation minister revived the project.

The revival of the over 40-year-old project was announced on December 5, 2014. Officials then said project though will affect 2000 families, but will provide livelihood, irrigation and drinking water to over 100 villages in the underdeveloped region. They also claimed that adequate compensation had been offered and many are ready to accept.

The villagers, however, said only a handful accepted the offer, but majority opposed the project as it will submerge 11 villages completely and partially affect 85. Besides, it will destroy dense forests in the area, hitting livelihood of over 50,000 people. Over 60% population is tribal and remaining 40% comprises Yadavs, Muslims and most backward classes. All are dependent on agriculture and forest produce. Soon after the revival of the project, villagers and activists approached the National Green Tribunal, which stayed the work on December 24, 2014. Their case was based on the Land Acquisition Act 2013, which made environment and social impact study mandatory before initiation of any such project.

It also allowed assessment of a project in retrospection. However, the work at the site did not stop and in the meantime, Modi government brought land acquisition amendment ordinance. “We saw that the state government was not listening to us and Centre was diluting the 2013 Act, we decided to hold a massive protest on April 14, 2015, the birth anniversary of Baba Saheb BR Ambedkar with the support of All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), an association fighting for the rights of tribal and Dalits,“ said Sukalo Gond, a tribal leader. According to locals, as they were as sembling at the spot, heavy police was deployed. Some policemen tried to remove protesters through force, leading to a clash. Police cane charged and opened fire, leaving 50 injured, five serious including with gun shot.

“Instead of a big dam, a smaller one or lift canal can provide irrigation and drinking water facility ,“ said Roma Mullic, AIUFWP deputy general secretary , who was not on the spot on April 14, but supported the agitation. “When Rihand dam was built in the region in 1960s, it was showcased as irrigation project, thousands were displaced from over 100 villagers, but later most of the water was diverted to cement factories and power plants in the district,“ she added.