Locals blame Budiganga Hydropower Project of snatching land and kin

Published On: August 7, 2017 02:42 AM NPT By: Arun Bam

DOTI, August 6: Six months ago residents of Simchaur Chapartola, Bogataan Rural Municipality - 1 came to know the government is going to construct a power substation in their vicinity. They took it as an arrival of a new era- 'the age of light'. However, the excitement was soon dashed by another announcement that the government was going to acquire their land for the purpose. Some 50 ropanis of land was going to be acquired for the Budiganga Hydropower Project. They were sad with the rumors but when they were told that they will be compensated for the land, they were glad. But the joy did not last long. 

“The land was all we had - our house was on it, it was the land that we tilled to feed our family. It was all we had,” said a local Jeet Bahadur Magar. “After the government decided to acquire it for the hydropower project we were very much disappointed. However, when we heard that we would be compensated for it, we were glad thinking that with the money we could buy some land in tarai region and relocate ourselves. But, all those hopes have been dashed off,” he added. 

Compared to hill region, life is thought to be far better in the tarai region among the locals. One of the advantage, they say, is that yield of farms in tarai is more than the land in the hills. But their dream shattered when they were told that they would get Rs 199,000 for a ropani of land. 

“We owned around two ropanis of land,” a local resident, Kamal Bahadur Ghartimagar said. “And as per the compensation rate provided by the government, whatever we would get would not enable us to buy land in tarai and relocation,” he added. 

However, everyone was not dejected with the offer. Some of the owners, who owned bigger share of the land, were glad with the offer. They would sell a small portion of their land to the government but price of the land that would remain with them would rise because of nearby power station. The group with the little land was not happy as they would have to sell all the land they have and yet would be not able to relocate with the compensation provided. For them, the compensation amount was a deal breaker. 

“Those who had greater area of land were in favor of selling the land to the government. But owners who had smaller pieces, were against it,” said Keshab Ghartimagar, another local. “The latter group feared that that if they sold the land at the price offered by the government, they would fail to relocate and ultimately end up being displaced,” he added. 

In the tussle, the poor ones lost. Rumors ran abuzz in the area that the government would acquire the land forcefully if not willfully sold. The smaller group of owners believed the rumors and subsequently gave in, Keshab said. “They feared that if they don't give the land and take the compensation, the government would forcefully acquire it and they would lose both the land and the compensation,” Keshab said adding that this had forced them to agree. He was not able to point to the source of these rumors and remain unverified. 

Lost everything to the deal

On July 28, both groups headed to the district headquarters to transfer the ownership of their land to the Budiganga Hydropower Project. The 50 ropanis of land owned by nine people was transferred into the name of the project. In papers there were only nine owners but in reality, many families owned the land. That happened because the land was yet to be divided officially in papers among the owners' children and siblings. Two of the families became landless after giving away the ownership, locals informed. 

More misfortune came to these two families this Friday. They lost their family members in the jeep accident at Kataigaundhar. Nine of the passengers lost life. Among them eight were from Simchaur Chapartola, Bogataan village municipality - 1. 

“We lost everything to the land acquisition deal. It snatched our home, land and our family members from us,” said a tearful Bir Bahadur Ghartimagar, a victim of the accident and a member of the family that owned the land whose ownership was transferred to the hydropower project, while undergoing treatment at the Soo-Jung Hospital in Dipayal. He added that there was only one agony earlier - of losing land. After losing kin in the accident, he said that he is feeling as if the sky has fallen down on his family. 

Bir Bahadur lost his father, uncle and two brothers in the accident for which he blames the land acquisition deal. “We were not ready to give away our land. We had very little land. But we had to do that because we were afraid that the government would take it forcefully from us. Now we have lost our land and our family members because of it. We do not know what to do, nothing is left,” he lamented. 

The accident also claimed lives of three kin of Nar Bahadur Punmagar. His grandfather, mother and uncle were killed in the accident. “Our livelihood, the land, was snatched away by the government. And those who had gone to the office to handover the land to the government were claimed by the poor road that the government constructed,” he said.  “We lost everything,” he added. 

Prakash Gartimagar, who was also injured in the accident, was no less devastated. He lost his father in the accident. “I survived but my father died. We were not ready to give the land. But we could do nothing,” he said. 

Six more people from Chapartola have been injured. Two of them are in severe condition and are receiving treatment at Nepalgunj Medical Hospital, while four are receiving treatment at the Soo-Jung Hospital. 

“We lost everything to the land acquisition deal. It snatched our home, land and our family members from us,” Bir Bahadur Ghartimagar, a victim in the jeep accident 

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