‘We were landowners… now it seems we are refugees here’

It has been six months since his home and three shops — the only source of his income — were demolished to expand the Kalka-Shimla highway. Today, Mrigender Jeet Singh lives in a rented accommodation and is unable to find a new place to resume his business.

Written by Sofi Ahsan | Dharampur | Updated: October 23, 2017 4:54 am
Dharampur-Kasauli roadm kalka shimla highway, mountain highway widening, nh22, chandigarh shimla route time distance, dharampur, himachal pradesh news, indian express Mrigender Jeet Singh in front of his demolished shop and house at Dharampur. (Express photo by Jaipal Singh)

There is always another side to development. It has been six months since his home and three shops — the only source of his income — were demolished to expand the Kalka-Shimla highway. Today, he lives in a rented accommodation and is unable to find a new place to resume his business. The four-laning of the NH-22 will make it safer and quicker to travel towards Shimla and the en-route destinations like Kasauli but for some like Mrigender Jeet Singh, the expansion of the road has meant a dull or no business since May when machines started demolishing the buildings and carving out a road on the side of the mountains.

“I had been running my business here at Dharampur for 23 years but all of a sudden, all of it was razed to the ground. We were landowners and now I have to put up in a rented place along with my mother, wife and children. It seems we are refugees here,” says Mringender, who ran a parlour with his wife and also sold clothes and shoes in the shop next to it.

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The 49-year-old says the land rates have shot up since the road construction began and the landlords — having known that many shopkeepers have been displaced because of the road project — have taken the rent to a new level. “I got a compensation of Rs 1.04 crore for the shops, godown and five rooms over them where I was living with my family. But to date, I have not been able to find a shop. The rent and price for labour has gone so high that it has become difficult to resume my business,” he adds.

Although Pramod Garg’s grocery and electronic store has not yet been brought down, he has already expanded it at the rear to keep his business going when the front portion of his shop is brought down for the proposed service lane running along the highway. “Obviously, the road construction has affected the business. This is a main tourist point but since the road construction began, everything has got disturbed. I think 40 per cent sale has already been affected and I do not know what the situation would be in future,” says Garg. “The tourist flow has come down. They would earlier stop at least along the highway but with such condition of road, they either don’t travel or find no space to park their vehicle here.”

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Garg’s woes are also echoed by people having their business en route Kasauli and at the popular tourist destination that is inside the military cantonment. The ongoing road-widening in the hilly terrain has made it difficult for the travellers to reach their favourite destinations.

The travel is made equally difficult by the landslides which block the already narrow road at many places. A number of landslides during the monsoon had made it a frightening task to drive on the road. “The business is down this year as compared to last year. Since the road widening has started, our bookings have gone down by almost 30 per cent. The traffic jams, bad condition of road and fear of landslides has prevented people from coming here this season,” says Neeraj, who works at the Sanawar Nature Camp on Dharampur-Kasauli road.

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At Kasauli, the owner of the Grand Maurice Heritage Lodge, says the road condition has definitely had its impact on their business and the usual rush is now only seen on the weekends. “The roads are in bad condition — it is not just the under-construction highway but inside Kasauli as well. Bookings have come down by 30 per cent. The road project has obviously had its effect as this place is mostly dependent on tourist,” said Harsh Kumar Singla.

The traders understand the road widening is also necessary and would result in more tourist flow when the project is completed. “The road is of course better and necessary for the natural interests. But my only wish is that we should have been intimated earlier that this would bring down our whole business, so we could have shifted in time and made an arrangement accordingly,” said Mrigender, who is yet to find his feet like many others.

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