"Bagmati Calling" : Dharna by villagers demanding rehabilitation

"Bagmati Calling" : Dharna by villagers demanding rehabilitation

The Bagmati Calling : I am reporting from the south bank of the Bagmati near Benipur in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar. An embankment along the Bagmati is under construction here and the villagers from Benipur, Bharthua and Jivajor are sitting here on a Dharna, since 25 th December 2007 demanding rehabilitation that would be caused due to construction of the embankments on either side of the river under the banner of Punarwas Sangharsh Samiti, Benuipur. They have been sitting here off and on since 11th April 2007 when the construction of the Rs 792 Crores embankments was started in the middle reaches of the Bagmati, from Runni Saipur in Sitamarhi to Kalanjar Ghat in Darbhanga district. "They were forced to stop the construction of the embankments till such time they were allotted land for construction of the houses outside the embankments and the compensation for building the houses is paid to them." They were promised rehabilitation within a time span of three months last year when the Project Officials and the Collector of Muzaffarpur assured them that their demands would be met soon and they should allow the work to continue. The villagers yielded hoping that the officials meant what they said but nothing followed. In the meanwhile, the Bagmati mauled these villages thoroughly during the floods this year as the villages were located within two (under construction) embankments of the Bagmati. When nothing happened, the villagers wrote back to the collector of Muzaffarpur on the 3rd December 2007 with copies to the Chief Minister and others asking for relocation soon or, at least, some action by 15 th December 2007 and when there was no response from anywhere, they sat for Dharna once again on the 25th December and that continues till date. There peaceful agitation is being thwarted by local hired goons. Benipur, once a prosperous village of about 500 families and the ancestral village of legendary Ram Briksha Benipuri has faced sedimentation due to the flood waters with mud entering the dwellings to a depth of two to three feet. Thatched houses had to be constructed over some of the pucca buildings to accommodate the flood victims who had to stay in these makeshift huts for over two months. The house of Benipuri Ji, had to be cleared of about 2 feet depth of mud to celebrate his birthday on the 23 rd December last year (2007). All the Kharif crop was washed away and the chances of any Rabi crop have receded because the whole of the 750 acres land of the village is now sand cast. Tej Narayan Singh (82), a village elder, says "he had never seen such floods earlier in his life and this was caused, surely, due to the negligence of the Government which had promised us relocation before the rains last year. We cannot prevent the Government from constructing this embankment, we do not have that strength. But the Government should look into our case sympathetically. We only want to be relocated in a safe place. Nobody listens to us. We are sitting here for the past 21 days and have stopped the work here but nobody is bothered. The project is constructing the embankments downstream wherever there is no resistance from the people. It could as well bulldoze us and let us die. Nobody will demand anything then from them." Shiv Kumar Sinha (62), retired teacher, who put all his savings in building a house in the village repents his decision. "If inly I had known that I will have to leave my house and go elsewhere, I may not have constructed this house. Further, the Government does not say a word about our livelihood. Ours is a village totally dependent of agriculture and that we are surely going to loose. There is no provision for providing us land. The Government expects us to till on the heaps of sand." The Bagmati story dates back to 1950s when the lower reaches of the river were embaked during the embankment boom. Rehabilitaion was not an issue then as the post-independence euphoria took care of that. Then the upper reaches of the river were embanked from Indo Nepal border till Runni Saidpur in the 1970s during the emergency when nobody could raise any voice. All that the people trapped within the embankments got then was a piece to about 5 decimals of land outside the embankments and a shifting allowance ranging fron Rs 300 to Rs 1500/ per house depending on the condition of the house, whether thatched , tiled or pucca. Most of them are yet to get the land papers and about one third of them are still living within the embankments braving floods on an annual basis. The others face surges of water due to breaches in the embankments. People living in the so called protected areas are also unsafe as the Bagmati embankments are notorious for breaching every year. They breached at 7 places in 2007. Says Ram Chandra Singh (75) of Benipur village and a former engineer working with the Bagmati Project ,'.. the embankments were constructed about 30 years ago and , on average, breach at 5 places annually. They must have breached over 150 times by now. That is the flood protection that we are going to get after we move from here. But let us move from here first." The Government is reported to have promised the victims heavens on earth, as ususal. The villagers say that they were indicated that they will get a ' never before' package for rehabilitation that will give them fabulous price for their land and unimaginable cost of construction for the new house. It has also promised a sum of Rs. 10,000/- for immediate arrangements and Rs. 5000/- for shifting the house. Some people feel, it is a prelude for acquiring land for SEZ in future. For any help (legal or solidarity) please contact Rajat Kumar Singh (Convenor , Punarwas Sangharsh Samiti, Village Benipur, PO Bharthua, Dist Muzaffarpur Mobile- 09430459171) and Manoranjan Singh ( 09934660214) Dinesh Kumar Mishra Convenor, Barh Mukti Abhiyan Road No: 6B, Rajeev Nagar, Patna 800024 Bihar, India Mob:+919431303360 e-mail: dkmishra108@gmail.com

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