Hundreds of locals in Punjab’s Pathankot district have been protesting against the Punjab government for not providing employment to the families displaced during the land acquisition for Ranjit Sagar Dam (RSD) and the Shahpurkandi Dam downstream. However, the protest took an ugly turn on Wednesday after two octogenarians – Saram Singh (82) and Kulwinder Singh (84) – scaled a 150-ft-high telecommunication tower in Jugial town with bottles full of petrol in their hands saying they were “tired of protesting”.
The two octogenarians have threatened to end their lives by setting themselves on fire if their demands were not fulfilled. Speaking to Newsclick, Pathankot SSP Gulneet Singh Khurana said that he had been trying to convince the two senior citizens to come down but they were not amenable. “They are not willing to speak to us. They say they will only talk to the dam authorities or the DC. They are still sitting atop the tower,” he added.
The displaced families have been on a dharna outside the RSD Chief Engineer’s office for the last 77 days but as per them, no one has met them. RSD Oustees Sangharsh Committee spokesperson Dayal Singh told Newsclick that they had been given “assurances” for many years now but nothing came of it. “So we decided to come out on the streets but they remain unmoved. When our land was taken away our parents were illiterate, they didn’t know how to fight for their rights. The government has fooled us,” he said.
Construction work on the Ranjit Sagar Dam began in 1982 and the project was completed in 2000. Made on the river Ravi, a part of the Indus Waters Treaty, it flows through Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab as part of hydroelectric project had reportedly affected nearly 1,573 families. The project is located near Punjab’s Pathankot district and J&K’s Kathua district.
For last few months the families affected by the project have been protesting against the government for not providing them jobs. Protesters said that the protest has been ongoing since 1993 and that close aides of officials were given jobs while many families were left to suffer.
In 1993, the Punjab State Rehabilitation Committee had framed a rehabilitation and resettlement policy for RSD oustees that included the provision of a job to at least one member of a displaced family.
However, the process of shortlisting came under scanner after it was found that five fake beneficiaries were given jobs. According to reports, the judge had noted that “the court could not remain a mute spectator to the likely involvement of officials of the civil and dam administration in such a scandal. Apart from looking into the above lapses, the bureau has also been asked to probe the case of 119 oustees who got jobs under special categories, besides the role of officials involved in the process.”
In 2019, the foundation stone of the Shahpurkandi Barrage project – downstream of RSD –was laid after the J&K and Punjab government signed an agreement. The Kandi project, which was supposed to be completed by 1988, would generate 206 MW of electricity and irrigate 37,173 hectare culturable command area of Punjab and J&K.
In January 2020, an order was issued for a sub-committee under Deputy Commissioner Pathankot to “examine in detail of the Rehabilitation and Resettlement policy” for the Shahpurkandi Dam project.
The order said, “The ongoing decided cases of Outsees of Ranjit Sagar Dam project by various Hon’ble Courts and ‘Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement, Act, 2013 should be kept in view before finalizing the recommendations by the sub-committee.”
However, the protesting families say that a detailed report prepared by DC Gurpreet Singh Khaira was in their favour and yet even a year after this order, they have not been provided with anything. “When the dam was being made farmers whose land came under the dam were given an assurance by the government. However, many years passed and we did not get a job and now the barrage dam project is also nearing completion but we are yet empty handed,” said Gurvinder Singh, another oustee affected by the Shahpurkandi Barrage project.