SHIMLA: Nand Lal Sharma was a Class VIII student when 71 bighas of land owned by his family in Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh was acquired for the construction of Bhakra dam. Today, Nand Lal, now in his 70s, is heading a movement to ensure the proper settlement of Bhakra dam oustees since the majority of people who gave their land for the “new temple of resurgent India”, in Jawaharlal Nehru’s words, have not got their dues in the past 50 years.
About 371 villages — 256 from former Bilaspur province, 110 from erstwhile Kangra province and five from Mandi — were submerged in the Bhakra dam catchment area. About 10,000 acres of agricultural land and 20,000 acres of forest land were submerged.
Some of the displaced people were rehabilitated in Sarsa, Hisar and Fatehbad districts of Haryana. Several others were settled in Ropar (Punjab) and Bilaspur, Nalagrah and Una in Himachal Pradesh. Apart from this, some of the displaced have also been resettled along the forested slopes on both sides of the reservoir from Bhakra to Slaapad and Lathyaani.
Nand Lal, president of Gramin Bhakra Visthapit Sudhar Samiti, said after acquisition of land the government provided them 2.5 bigha land as part of their share. Since then life has been a struggle for them since surviving on this small piece of land is difficult.
Nand Lal said 3,600 families were promised land in Haryana but about 740 of them returned since they could not be accommodated there. Of the remaining 2860 families, only 800 could get the ownership of land in Haryana. “Oustees were promised plots in new Bilaspur town but very few could get it while others were forced to rehabilitate in the nearby forests,” he said. “We feel cheated as in the past 50 years proper settlement of Bhakra dam oustees has not been done by the governments at the Centre and in the state. Majority of the people were forced to settle in the forest and sanctuary areas and, to date, have not been given ownership rights.”
Manshi Asher of Himdhara, an NGO working for the rights of Bhakra dam oustees, said 36,000 families had lost their homes and land to the project. “While the landed received some compensation at rates varying from Rs 1,000 per acre for agricultural land to Rs 250 for uncultivable land, the landless received merely Rs 200 as an overall compensation,” Asher said.
Asher said there is no official figure for agricultural labourers, landless persons, potters and many others who were displaced by the dam. The official records only show 11,000 as project displaced people, she said.
Himalaya Niti Abhiyan coordinator Ghuman Singh said while states such as Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi have benefitted from Bhakra dam, people who lost their land and homes are forced to struggle.
Before the construction of the dam, an agreement was signed between the ruler of erstwhile Bilaspur princely state and the government of Punjab on July 7, 1948, titled the Bhakra dam agreement. The agreement spoke of rehabilitation measures for the displaced people, which are yet to be implemented. In 1971, the Himachal Pradesh government evolved a rehabilitation and resettlement policy that provided for “land for land” (agriculture as well as homestead). Even this policy has not been implemented.