Residents of Chhattisgarh's Lakha village, displaced for construction of Kelo Dam, vow to boycott BJP in polls

Manish Kumar | Nov 11, 2018 | 6 min read


Head: Dam-displaced Chhattisgarh villagers vows to boycott BJP

Byline: Manish Kumar

Strap: Villagers from the Lakha village were displaced almost a decade back in the name of the Kelo dam project, but with incomplete compensation and after losing their fertile lands, they say their lives are ruined

Raigarh: Around 10 kilometers away from the Raigarh railway station, lies the new Lakha village, which was carved out by the Chhattisgarh Government about a decade back after displacing around 400 households from the low-lying area of erstwhile Lakha, around three kilometers away.

The old village, located near the Kelo river, was completely evacuated by the BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh Government, and the villagers were shifted to the new location, situated in an elevated area. This, as the ambitious Kelo dam project came up in the region where the old Lakha village was. This village had 186 joint families living in it. While Lakha and Dhanot villages were completely displaced when the Kelo dam was built in 2012, three other villages were partially affected.

The new Lakha is now juxtaposed to Raigarh-Ambikapur State Highway and is filled with fly-ash and industrial dust from the nearby steel-based industries . Commuters also find it hard travelling through the poorly constructed road. After being shifted from the low-lying fertile land to a new area, which lacks any agricultural land and water resources, the villagers feel cheated by the incumbent BJP government. As a result, many here have vowed to boycott BJP, which, they say, allegedly never cared for them.

Sashika Gadtia is a resident of Lakha village. Having lost her land and still waiting to get full compensation from the government even after almost a decade, Sashika told FirstPost that she is determined to boycott the BJP during the state elections, as it was Chief Minister Raman Singh’s party that deprived the villagers of their rights and nearly ruined the lives of many. “I am ready to wave black flags at the BJP leaders who want to visit our village for campaigning. It is the BJP government who 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, farming land nor ample water,” she said.

She also said that she was handed a cheque of Rs 6 lakh by CM Singh himself during his Vikas Yatra, but she received only Rs 2 lakh when it was exchanged at the bank. She claimed that it was a “fake cheque”.

Sashika isn't alone in opening up about her woes and fire shots against the BJP. Lalit Gupta, another aggrieved person from the village, told us that the he has dues amounting to Rs 7.5 lakh from the government. “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 brunt of the displacement. There are few amenities here to support our livelihoods.”

*Farmers worst hit*

But what about the farmers who had land in the old Lakha village? Villagers claim the farmers were the worst hit, as they lost their entire means of living during the construction of the dam on the Kelo river, a tributary of the Mahanadi river in the drought prone district of Raigarh. 

“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 fertile lands were taken over by the BJP government and compensations were handed out hurriedly at lower prices.  Many villagers said that during the displacement phase, authorities promised them higher prices for the lands, but that never came through. Gopal Agrawal, who is well-versed with the process of compensation and had been keeping a track of all announcements, documentation and sanctions, has been going from pillar to post at government offices seeking justice.

“As per 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 khestra (land). I have been keeping track 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 - what kind of vikas are they doing if the people who lost the lands have not been given compensations yet? Aggrawal asked.

Many veterans also said that there were anomalies in the disbursement of compensation. “When an examination for compensation was done during the displacement process, many fertile areas were shown as wastelands, and were declined for compensation," said another villager.

The villagers said that they have been receiving subsidized rice from the government -  7kgs/person, per month. Many have argued that while other dam-displaced villages in Chhattisgarh have been compensated, why is it that Lakha and Dhanot villages are being met with this step-motherly behaviour by the BJP, which is now doing aggressive campaigning for the upcoming state elections.

The villagers told us that the name 'Lakha' is derived from two words - 'La' and 'Kha', which denotes the tendency and virtue of the village to be able to use and consume resources from the the nearby forest. Their proximity to natural resources from all sides in the old village, made the villagers self-sufficient.

*Industrial waste being drained in to dam*

The Kelo dam, which was envisaged for irrigation purposes and to support nearby industries, has miffed environmentalists. The allege that the project is hardly giving importance to irrigation even after so many years have passed since the dam's completion.

Noted environmentalist from Raigarh, Ramesh Agrawal, said, “When the government proposed the dam, it had promised to give water to the nearby villages for irrigation, but around six years have passed and not even a single canal has been construct for irrigation. The government, however, has ensured that water from the dam goes to the industries.”

Activists also alleged that the dam has now turned into a drain by nearby industries, as they dump their waste in to the water, making it increasingly polluted. Scrutiny and checks for such actions are negligent here.  

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