Official errors lead to chaos among villagers at Himachal power project site
Some erroneous entries in the revenue records and misinterpretation of the records by certain banks have led to chaos and confusion among the villagers in Holi-Bajoli area of the remote Bharmour sub division of Chamba district in Himachal Pradesh.
The confusion pertains to the land under which a tunnel is being laid for the 180 Mega Watt Holi-Bajoli power project that is being executed by the GMR Group and it is to start commercial operations next year. The administration is now busy clarifying things to the local villagers and the banks in question.
Sources disclosed that under the project a 16 km-long tunnel is to be dug at a depth of 200 metres to 225 metres below the ground level. The majority of the land under which the tunnel is to be dug is forest land while some portions belong to the local farmers.
The GMR Group has reportedly raised a loan of Rs 1,405 crore by mortgaging the land in 2012. Now, the problem arose that while the surface land, on paper, remained in the name of the farmers, the under ground part where the tunnel is being dug was shown to be a part of the project.
And this came to light recently when some of the farmers from the Holi village went to the banks to raise a loan by mortgaging their land. They were told that the land stood registered in the name of GMR Company and that the company had already raised a loan in 2012 by mortgaging it.
The banks refused to entertain the farmers' application for a loan.
This led to complete chaos and confusion among the farmers who feared that they had lost their land. They approached the local administration alleging that their land had been usurped and the revenue department officials were hand in glove with the usurpers.
Under panic, they reportedly submitted a complaint to the National Commission for Schedule Tribe (NCST) that is going to hear the matter on 27 April and also the Prime Minister's Office.
Their allegations pointed to the revenue records which had the description of their land and had the area described as what had been mortgaged by the GMR Group.
The administration started a probe into the matter and the revenue records were taken into custody and sent to higher authorities for investigation.
It needs to be pointed out that with Bharmour being a tribal area, no one from outside is allowed to purchase land there. The land can, however, be leased out, after due clearance, for various purposes.
The administrative authorities called the representatives of the GMR Group that furnished their papers and also questioned the revenue officials.
“Preliminary investigations have revealed certain errors in the revenue record entries which will be corrected,” said Vinay Dhiman additional district magistrate at Bharmour who carried out the probe.
Chamba's deputy commissioner Sudesh Maukhta has come out with a statement saying that since the tunnel is being made at a substantial depth below the surface no private individual can claim land rights over it.
The rights of land below the surface are that of the government which has been misunderstood by the banks when they were approached by the farmers.
Maukhta further underlined, “The land rights on the surface are those of the individuals and they can use it according to their wish.”
He stated that orders have been given to correct the anomalies in the revenue records and that Dhiman will soon be submitting a report on the corrections made to the district administration. He also added that the loan taken by the GMR Group has obtained on the basis of the land belonging to the government.
A statement from the GMR Group said that the rights of the individuals on the surface land remain intact and the company has nothing to do with their land.
Project Director Som Prakash Bansal has said that the company has written to the revenue department to clarify things and to ensure that there is no misunderstanding among the farmers.
But, what remains to be seen is whether the farmers are able to avail loans against their land or not.
The leasing out of the land by the state governments in Himachal, as well as in neighbouring Uttarakhand, has always been a contentious and a sensitive issue. A slight shake in the confidence of the local communities can have far reaching ramifications.
The channelling of rivers through the underground tunnels has been opposed at various places because it has led to a complete change in the topography of the area and its impact on agriculture are being debated at length.
The Holi Bajoli project too saw its share of opposition from the local community, particularly the women from Holi village when the tunnel and power house projects were reportedly shifted from the right bank of the Ravi river to the left one. They women had expressed apprehensions about their lives being disrupted.