About 130 families in UP’s Garhmukhteshwar constituency will not be able to vote Saturday. Because after 1999, names of eligible voters of Ganga Nagar Alamgirpur in Hapur district have not been included in the rolls. The story of these Bangla-speaking families and the constituency goes back to Emergency. Many of these families were scattered around hills of what is now Uttarakhand. Residents of the village claim that 350 such families were offered land to cultivate and build homes — 3 acres of agricultural land and about 900 sq m of residential plots — under a family planning drive of the Indira Gandhi government.
The promised three acres were never allotted, but they were offered residential plots in Braj Ghat at Garhmukhteshwar, a quaint town by the Ganga. But when they came to the area, in 1986, the locals pushed them away from the ghat, into the wilderness, and denied them the plots. Most families left for nearby villages and only 72 of them stayed back. The small parcel of land they came to inhabit is now Ganga Nagar Alamgirpur. Over the years, other families joined them, taking the number to 130.
Ganga Nagar is 3 km to the south of Braj Ghat. But no road connects them. Instead, there is a sandy path that villagers have carved out of wilderness, across the riverbed that emerges in winter. After they had settled in, the villagers voted in panchayat, Assembly and Lok Sabha polls. They were part of the panchayat of four villages in 1995. But in 1999, the candidate the villagers backed in panchayat polls lost. They claim that the winner, from nearby village Balwapur, colluded with local authorities, got them tagged illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and their names struck off from electoral rolls. They have been fighting for the right to vote ever since.
Nirmal Das, a 60-year-old priest has been at the forefront of this battle. He told The Indian Express that they have spent about Rs 7 lakh over the years in this fight. The village has no electricity, and has not received ration since March 2005. They have Aadhar cards, old ration cards and cards to prove their identities as beneficiaries of the vasectomy scheme, but they have still been denied the benefits.
Most families either cultivate land around the village that they have claimed from the forests, illegally, or send their young to work in nearby cities. They grow wheat, rice, sugarcane and parmal. Those who can afford a solar panel, which costs Rs 12,000, and the Rs 8000 or more for batteries, have installed them for electricity in their mud-huts. There is no school in the village and children have to walk for several kilometres in the dry season, and cross the river in the other months to reach a school in Braj Ghat. “Now there is a panther in the area. So the children have not gone to school for a week,” said Mukund Lal (64), a villager.
In 2014, one Ramesh Saha, who runs NGO Vision True in Delhi, heard of the villagers’ plight and wrote to Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The ministry forwarded the letter to Election Commission. The commission passed an order on August 26, 2016, that as soon as online registration for Assembly polls begins, the villagers will receive their ID cards. But nothing happened, said Das. He alleged that members of the local administration continued to collude with the head of the panchayat to deny them their rights.
A new SDM was posted in Garhmukhteshwar in December, Das said. “He promised to come and conduct a survey.” But then, the polls were announced and he got busy, he added. The SDM has now promised to look into the issue after February 11, when the constituency votes in the first phase of Assembly polls, said Das.