Bilaspur: The Narmada Bachao Andolan and the Tehri Dam movements may have been the face of struggle against mass displacement of people due to mega projects, but on Thursday it seemed the old Bilaspur city, long lying silent beneath Govind Sagar lake formed after the first ‘modern temple’ of independent India – Bhakra Dam – came into existence, had re-emerged to tell its tale of sorrows.
As more than 3,000 people affected by dams, mines, urbanization projects and destructive development projects in the state of Himachal Pradesh came under one banner of the Himalaya Niti Abhiyan to hold a rally in the streets of Bilaspur, shouting slogans of “Aaj Himalaya jagega, loootne wala bhagega” and “Vikas chahiye, vinash nahin”, it appeared the land of the thousands Devtas was crying to be relieved of a curse. Ironically, it took a Medha Patkar and Sunder Lal Bahuguna to give voice to the submerged sentiments of people displaced by various mega projects in Himachal Pradesh.
“It is shocking that the courts and government justify the displacement by other big dams citing Bhakra as an example and quoting that it has benefited the local communities and made their lives better – whereas the reality is just the opposite and the rest of the country does not know this,” claimed Medha Patkar.
As Nand Lal Sharma, leader of the Bhakra Oustees Sangarsh Samiti, started his address with a quote that Bilaspur, once refereed to as a “Mother state” had been reduced to a “beggar state” as a result of the Bhakra dam, there were still apprehensions among the listeners, but when Bhagat Singh, one of the convening members of the Himalaya Bachao Rally, said people displaced due to this project were yet to be rehabilitated in a just manner, everybody around appeared astonished.
Sundar Lal Bahuguna focused on the need for Himalaya specific development model which is based on forestry, forest based agriculture and preservation of water sources – the only way that the water crisis for the entire country can be addressed. He condemned the growth of mining projects in mountain states for the havoc that they play with the mountain ecology and people’s lives.
Chitranjan Sen, national organizing committee member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties lent his weight to the Himalaya Niti Abhiyan and promised to provide all national support to make the campaign successful.
Guman Singh, convener of the Himalaya Niti Abhiyan, said that it was high time the movements and agitations fighting in various corners of the state came together with their common demands on the issue of displacement, land grab and environment destruction.
A people’s manifesto was announced at the end of the public meeting with a list of demands which will be discussed with representatives of the political parties on April 11 as part of a 2-day conference being held in Bilaspur.
Some of the demands in the people’s manifest include proper rehabilitation of Pong, Pandoh and Bhakra Dam oustees; scrapping of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894; withdrawal of the section 17(4) Urgency Clause Notice issued for the Renuka Dam project; evaluation of the cumulative environmental and social impacts of hydro-power projects in Himachal and a moratorium on all such projects till such an assessment is done; scrapping of the SEZs; a complete halt on mining and mine-based industries in Himachal; strict implementation of Section 118 of the Himachal Land Reforms Act and; strengthening mountain specific development policies for the state.