Saturday, September 27, 2014

Jang wants out

Jang village sits on a dangerous perch above the Teesta Stage-V reservoir. Now, it has had enough to the trauma of development-induced slips and slides and wants NHPC to acquire their land and homes so that they can move on

Jang village, located on the left bank of the Teesta near Dikchu, has been on a precarious perch ever since the hydel project came to its neighbourhood. Its situation turned even more at risk when the project was commissioned in the year 2006 and the reservoir, over which the village sits, was filled up. Since then, the residents have seen their lands sink away, houses tilt, courtyards crack and landslides tear off from the below the village, tugging at its very foundations. Through the years, the villagers here have suffered damage, received inspection teams and collected reimbursement for repairs and damages. The cycle is proving too repetitive and the condition too traumatic for the people who are now demanding that NHPC acquire everything - from their imperiled lands to the in-threat houses - compensate them adequately so that they can relocate.
While this demand has been raised often by the people, it had not been taken into consideration with any seriousness by the concerned authorities until recently. The trouble at Jang has now clearly grow too dire to be sidestepped any longer and measures have begun to evaluate the scale of damage with the intention to compensate the affected families, paving the way for their relocation. The entire village of 45 houses wants out, but in the present process, 16 houses located below the road are being surveyed.
A joint inspection was carried out recently at Jang. The inspection team comprised of officials from NHPC central team, Joint Director, Mines & Geology Nima Sherpa, SDM-Gangtok KL Lepcha, GVA-Tintek Pema Wangchen Bhutia, Panchayat President BB Gurung, officials from Land Revenue and Power departments and the affected landowners.
All the 16 houses at Jang which lie below the Dikchu-Singtam highway have been declared unsafe for habitation and all of them wear wide cracks induced by the landslides which have been tearing away from the slope below into the Stage-V reservoir. A survey carried out by the Mines & Geology Department attested that these houses were unsafe for habitation. Since the houses have been so affected by the hydel project, it was recommended that they be acquired by the project developer - NHPC.
Before this, another eight houses at Jang had already been declared unsafe and compensated. With 16 more being considered for similar compensation, the number now stands at 24 or the 45 houses at Jang. The remaining houses are above the road alignment and are also seeking proper evaluation and acquisition by NHPC.
The Gangtok SDM, KL Lepcha, who was part of the inspection team, admitted that many joint surveys have been conducted for Jang and all have made similar findings; it was now time for concrete outcomes. Meanwhile, at present, assessment of land is being carried out by the Land Revenue Department after which the Buildings Department will prepare an assessment of the houses, following which an official compensation package can be worked out for the Jang families, adds GVA Tintek, Pema Wangchen Bhutia.
The people insist that they do not want compensation for damages anymore and want their lands and properties to be acquired by NHPC once and for all since the area is no longer safe for habitation.
“We don’t even want relocation packages. We want to be compensated for our properties after which we will settle elsewhere on our own and will neither harass the government nor the project developer,” says Mohan Koirala, one of the affected residents of Jang.
Meanwhile, a similar joint inspection was also conducted for Phidang village on the opposite bank.
This inspection was led by DC North, TN Kazi along with SDM Dzongu, Tshering Dorjee Bhutia, along with the NHPC central team from Faridabad headed by RP Sharma, Chief Engineer (Geology), VK Saini, Chief Engineer, Tech (Civil), Nima Sherpa, Joint Directer, State Mines & Geology Deptt, representatives from Land Revenue Deptt, Panchayat member Tshering Gyatso Lepcha and the affected landowners.
The team inspected all the lands and houses damaged by the reservoir on the right bank which falls in North District. It has been ascertained that the land and building belonging to Karma Donka Lepcha of Phidang, has been severely damaged as has the attached agriculture land.
Likewise, the land belonging to Samten Lepcha, Nedup Lepcha and Naksuk Lepcha towards the reservoir has also been severely damaged by a landslide which has torn away sizeable portions of their land.
The affected landowners argue that landslides around the reservoir have been triggered owing to the lack of reservoir rim treatment which should have been undertaken before the commissioning of the project, failing which, toe erosion has been excessive causing slips and sinks on the slope. The affected people complain that they sacrificed their meagre ancestral properties for a national cause, but their gesture was not adequately reciprocated by the project developers who have not ensured adequate safety measures.
A brief meeting was held after the inspection at Phidang where the Panchayat Vice President Tshering Gyatso Lepcha stated that NHPC should take serous steps in light of the damage caused to the area and insisted that this be expedited.
The DC North informed that several joint inspections and surveys have been conducted, and that time has now come for NHPC to acquire the damaged land and properties and adequately compensate the people. The DC added that since a central NHPC team has seen the situation, the results this time should be fruitful.
The NHPC Chief Engineer (Geology) in turn said that there are clearly damages of private lands and homes as it has been ascertained and said that there would be a positive outcome based on the survey.
The affected people informed that improper Reservoir Rim Treatment measures adopted along the reservoir which the NHPC in the past are to blame. The rim treatment should have been more scientifically undertaken, taking into consideration the local topography and lay of the land.
Concerning this case , at Phidang village NHPC has paid compensation to houses lying within the purview of the Reservoir at EL 581-EL 585,that is the NHPC acquired areas.
In the winter of 2013, NHPC had set aside a substantial package for the protection of Dikchu New Market area and even shut down power generation for a month when protective works were undertaken at the reservoir level. But the rim treatment measures adopted, which should have been one of fully strong grouting rod concreted mixture at least up till the reservoir submergence level [EL 579] so as to protect Toe Erosions Scouring Tremors and Vibrations from occurring, was not done. The Mangan-Dikchu highway below Dikchu New Market is also now at risk of collapsing anytime due to the slide tugging at it from the reservoir.
Among the other demands of the affected people are requests for installation Halogen lights at strategic locations along the reservoir to save lives in the event of a calamity. Such measures are included in the DPR Public Hearing Book of NHPC, but remain undelivered till date.

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