By Surendra Arya and Prakash Bhandari*
The Uttarakhand government’s irrigation department has been given the responsibility of preparing the rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) plan for the people to be affected by the proposed 5,040 MW Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project (PMPP). For Pancheshwar Dam alone, a total of 9,100 hectares of land will be required to be acquired. The Social Impact Assessment (SIA) report says that this will impact 31,023 families in three districts of the state.
Several recent news reports have been stating that the compensation for Project Affected Families (PAF), which is four times of the market rate of land, as per the SIA report, would be increased to six times of the market or circle rate. While this carrot dangled in front of the PAFs is being projected as extremely lucrative, in reality that is not the case.
In fact, if we look closely at the compensation figures and do some basic calculations, two stark facts are revealed. First, the distribution of compensation funds is likely to be highly skewed with one village getting 65% of the total compensation amount. Secondly, as a result of this inequality about 80% of the PAFs will get amounts equal to peanuts for the fertile and diverse land base that will be lost. Members of Mahakali Lok Sangathan say, “It is clear that the displacement because of the dam will push thousands of families into poverty and an economic crisis.”
As per the SIA report, prepared by WAPCOS, a total of 3,735 hectares (ha) of private land will be acquired for Pancheshwar and Rupaligaad projects. In the attached table we have analysed the distribution of compensation amount, which clearly shows that 23 villages in Pithoragarh district, Majirkanda, Dutibagar, Kimkhola, Dungatoli, Jogyoura, Bagdihat and Bheliya etc., will be getting Rs 5,452 crore, i.e 84% of the total compensation budgeted for private land acquisition, i.e Rs 6,520.1 crore. It is important to note that these 23 villages have less than one fourth (23%) of the total PAFs – 7,102 of the 31,023 PAFs.
This clearly shows that there is going to be serious inequity in the distribution of compensation funds in the project. The primary reason appears to be that, depending on the location of different villages and their proximity to the road and markets, the circle rates of the private lands are varying in extremes.
For instance, as per the SIA report, 1,279.21 ha land (which 34% of the total land to be acquired for the project) falls in one village, Majirkanda of Pithoragarh district. It is unclear how such a large chunk of land is falling in one project. The total compensation amount as per the Rehabilitation Plan for land acquisition is Rs 6,520.11 crore, and of this 65%, i.e. Rs 4,221.39 crore, is to be spent only in Majirkanda village. The average rate of compensations, which is 4 times of circle rate, is close to 6.6 lakhs/naali here (where one hectare is 50 naali).
Compare this to another project affected village in Pithoragarh district, Kaanadi, which will be totally displaced by the dam. A total of 3.9 hectares (195 naalis) of private land is to be acquired here, and the compensation rate here amounts to Rs 80,000 per naali (circle rate is Rs 20,000/naali). Even if this is multiplied six times of the applicable circle rate of the area, it amounts to about 1.2 lakhs/naali.
Similar is the case with 13 out of the 20 impacted villages of Almora district. In Champawat district, where out of the 15 villages, 7 will be impacted the compensation rate is worse, Rs. 0.50 per naali. Even six times circle rate won’t enable farmers to buy land elsewhere.
The main question, which the PAFs are raising, is whether with this amount it is at all possible for a family to buy fertile and productive land in a well-connected village in the area. For instance, if people of Kaanadi were to search for land around Wadda, the current rates there are around Rs.7-8 lakhs/naali.
“If land for land is not a provision in the rehabilitation policy and the compensation rates are insufficient, the displacement by Pancheshwar will lead to severe impoverishment, as these farmers will not be able to buy similar fertile land, and thus there is no guarantee of a livelihood for them in the future”, says Prakash Bhandari, of Mahakali Lok Sangathan.
Kailash Chand from Kanaadi village, laments, “There are 40 plus families who will be completely displaced in the village and this dam is a nightmare for us. All the figures of land in the survey are incorrect; the amount of land involved is substantially higher than has been recorded by WAPCOS in the SIA report”. The issue of data in the environment and social impact assessment reports being inaccurate has been repeatedly brought up by many organizations, who are demanding that needs to be redone by a credible independent agency, before considering the project for approval.
For families who are marginal land holders or almost landless, the loss will be the more severe. The claim of the government that this project will bring development and improve the economic conditions of the affected families is nothing but a lie and smokescreen to hide the real impacts of the dam.
*Mahakali Lok Sangathan, Pithoragadh