GORKHA, Oct 30: Locals of Gorkha and Dhading, whose land would be acquired by Budhigandaki Hydro Project, have warned of boycotting the upcoming federal and provincial polls if the government does not start the process of distributing compensation at the earliest. Urging the government to fix the land prices instantly and start providing compensation, locals of Arughat, Khahare and Arkhet, among other towns took to the streets on Sunday. Vehicular movement came to a halt in several areas of the two districts due to banda called by the protestors. Arughat, the main market of Gorkha, was fully shut.
"It is a very serious matter. But the government does not pay any heed. So, we were forced to call banda and have decided not to participate in the elections if we our demands are not met," said Nidesh Dhakal, president of Budhigandaki Affected Committee, Arughat. "We see no progress in the project. Many people are affected in Arughat and other areas. But they have not yet fixed the land prices, let alone provide compensation," he added.
Last year in November, the Ministry of Energy had taken initiative to set the land prices. Lawmakers from the two districts, CDOs and officials of the project had held several rounds of joint meetings and reached a conclusion. The then energy minister Janardan Sharma had initiated the meetings.
They had decided to prepare a list of houses, cowsheds, industries and plants that would be submerged by the reservoir of the 1,200 megawatt capacity project. Stakeholders had also decided to offer option of choosing resettlement or compensation for their lands and houses to the affected families.
However, later the political parties and lawmakers did not show due interest in the matter, brining the progress to a halt.
"We have announced general strike. All public offices and main market places are going to be shut unless the matter is given due attention," said Dhakal.
Schools, colleges, public offices, shops, markets all remained shut at main towns of Gorkha and Dhading on Sunday. Protestors were on streets since early morning urging locals to make the banda successful.
This is not the first time locals took to the streets demanding resettlement or compensation. The government has so far provided compensation to the people of six VDCs of Gorkha and Dhading. Khanal stated that there are many other VDCs where people are waiting for compensation.
"The government has captured our land for the last 20 months. We are not in a position to decide about it freely. So, aren't we already affected much?" Dhakal questioned. "By now, we must have received full compensation whereas they have not even started providing it. Only few people have got it," he added.
Those hit by the project include quake victims as well. They lament that they are doubly affected. Due to the dilemma about the compensation, they have not been able to make concrete plans about their future, they say. According to Dhakal, if the government continues to be apathetic toward the issue, it may gravely affect the polls.
"It will clearly seen in the elections. People won't vote," he said. "We met energy minister, prime minister, all top leaders of the main parties but the problem is as it is," he added.
Dhakal stated that the locals want resettlement somewhere else at the earliest. If they could have clear idea about the size of compensation, it would make it easier for them. The government must show sincerity over the matter and take action or else, the locals would be bound to intensify protests, he warned. The committee has decided to continue with banda in Gorkha and Dhading.
"We are going to shut down the markets in Gorkha and Dhading on Monday and it might prolong for more days," Dhakal said.
On the other hand, the protest triggered an emergency meeting at the district administration offices on Sunday. According to the CDO of Gorkha, who is also the president of the Compensation Fixation Committee, distribution of compensation will begin within a month.
"We are going to distribute it soon. There is already Rs 5 billion for this purpose. And the rest would be distributed after we get next budget," he said. He added that some of the land prices have already been fixed and some are yet to be fixed.
According to the Detailed Project Report, the project will have 263 meters tall dam and its reservoir will be 15 times larger than the Fewa lake.