Tuesday, January 26, 2021


Apex Court hearing rekindles hope of Pong Dam oustees

Yadavindra S Rana | December 29, 2020 09:53 AM

CHANDIGARH: Hopes rekindle on Himachal’s thousands of families displaced more than 50 years ago
by the Pong Dam in district Kangra of Himachal Pradesh as in January 2021, the Supreme Court will
hear a petition seeking the rehabilitation of oustees. First Prime Minister of India once said “you
should suffer in the interest of the nation.

Pong Dam oustees have been suffering in the interest of
nation for more than 50 years. "We give up our lands for the nation but the nation did not look after
us, " said oustees.
The dam submerged homes, agricultural lands and commons in 339 Kangra villages covering
75, 268 acres, an area about half the size of Indore, the largest city in Madhya Pradesh. Of the 30, 000
families displaced, 16, 352 had lost more than one-third of their landholdings and were considered
eligible for rehabilitation on
Of these, about 8, 000 families are still awaiting rehabilitation--they have either not been allotted
land in Rajasthan or had their allotments cancelled by the state, the Himachal Pradesh government
told its legislative assembly in December 2018.
The Pong Dam, completed in 1975, impounded the Beas River and channeled its water up to
the Thar Desert in Rajasthan through India's longest canal network, the Indira Gandhi Canal.
The apex court on October 16 issued notices on the petition filed by a second-generation
oustee to the states of Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh and the water resources department of the
Ministry of Jal Shakti. The petition stated that the Rajasthan government has been violating the
procedure of allotments by not convening meetings of a forum for grievances of displaced people
set up under a Supreme Court order of 1996. The governments have to file responses by January 11.
The hearing is scheduled for 20 January.
It is a story of the decades-long struggle of the Pong Dam oustees becomes relevant as India,
in a bid to boost its renewable energy capacity, seeks to increase by at least 34 per cent the installed
hydroelectric capacity of big dams, from 45 Giga watts (GW) at present to 60 GW in 2030. The
central government in 2019 reclassified big dams as renewable energy projects, which assures
financial incentives to existing and new dam projects.
But there are at least 60 ongoing land conflicts in India due to dams, according to Land
Conflict Watch, a project that collects data on ongoing land conflicts in India. The Pong Dam is one
among several large dams built in India in the decades after Independence, in which rehabilitation of
displaced people is still not complete. The others are the Hirakud dam, Independent India's first
large dam project, and the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada River where rehabilitation is
incomplete since over 30 years, as IndiaSpend reported in September 2019.
In 2013, India passed a new land acquisition law, the Right to Fair Compensation and
Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, which made rehabilitation
legally mandatory for the first time. Yet, there are at least 13 cases of land conflicts in six states
related to dams built after 2013, as per the Land Conflict Watch database.
The expansion of large dams is being proposed even as rehabilitation is yet to be completed
for most of India's early dam projects, said Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams.
The judiciary is the final hope for those seeking the completion of rehabilitation in legacy cases such
as Pong Dam, he added.
A slew of factors have affected the rehabilitation of families ousted in Kangra--poor planning for
resettlement, state apathy, red tape and long delays.
Each eligible oustee was allotted 15 acres, according to the rehabilitation package agreed
upon by the governments of Rajasthan and Punjab, which governed Kangra before the state of
Himachal Pradesh was created. The 1972 Rules required oustees to present to the Rajasthan
government eligibility certificates obtained from the Himachal Pradesh government. The Rajasthan
government would then allot land, and provide roads, electricity, water, schools and healthcare

facilities. But it proved a lip service as the plots allotted were barren and there were no civic
amenities, oustees alleged.
Eventually, number of rehabilitated oustees began to abandon their lands or sell them, which
was illegal because the 1972 Rules prohibited the sale of allotted land for 20 years. The rules also
required lands to be personally cultivated by the allottees and there were annual inspections to
ensure this. As people began to leave, the Rajasthan government started cancelling allotments.
Landless locals were then handed the cancelled or abandoned plots, Guleria said.
By 1980, the Rajasthan government had allotted land to only 9, 196 Kangra families (56 per
cent) of those eligible. Of these allotments, 72 per cent were cancelled by the state for violating the
1972 Rules, according to an affidavit filed by the Himachal Pradesh government before the Supreme
Court in 1993.
In 2008, the revenue ministers of Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh jointly created a 'standing
committee' headed by Rajasthan's revenue secretary with representatives from among the displaced
people. The standing committee was asked to meet bimonthly to resolve the grievances of oustees
and monitor the allotment of land. It also created a 'sub-committee' with representatives from the
two state governments and five representatives of oustees to select suitable land in the canal area
for rehabilitation.
That year, the subcommittee visited the rehabilitation areas in Rajasthan and found that
much of the land was non-irrigated and there was still no electricity, water or other services. Plots
reserved for oustees were scattered and in one area, gypsum was being mined. The committee's
report concluded that it did not believe there was enough irrigated land available in Rajasthan for all
Since 2018, the Rajasthan government has said it would give lands to the oustees, but along
the Pakistan border in Jaisalmer and Bikaner districts. The Himachal Pradesh government protested
this decision, saying that the land was uncultivable and went "without water for months".
Earlier, the Himachal Pradesh High Court also said that "for an agriculturist/villager of State
of Himachal Pradesh, prima facie, it is difficult, if not impossible, to settle down in a remote area of
District Jaislmer or Bikaner where the alternative land is being offered". The court suggested that
land should be provided in Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan should pay for it.
In September 2019, MLAs in Himachal Pradesh raised questions in the house over the
pending rehabilitation of families displaced by the Bhakra Dam built in 1963. Several oustees do not
have land or were settled in areas without adequate amenities. The Pong Dam rehabilitation relied
on the judgment of the Apex Court for fair compensation in lieu of their fertile land despite elapse of
five decades. ahead, not behind, " the report said.

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