Updated: January 22, 2022 8:32:25 am
At an altitude of 12,000 feet, with temperatures hovering around of 5 degrees Celsius, District Development Council (DDC) chairperson Pooja Thakur has been sitting on a dharna in Dachhan tehsil of Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district since Wednesday. Thakur and others, including local residents who joined her, are demanding that people from the area be hired as workers at the under-construction 1,000-megawatt Pakal Dul hydro electric power project at Dangdoru.
DDC members, who were elected in 2020 during the first-ever DDC elections in Jammu and Kashmir, have been presented as a link between the people and the administration in the aftermath of the abrogation of J&K’s special status and its reorganisation into two Union Territories.
Thakur, who is from the National Conference (NC), was elected Kishtwar DDC chairperson and was administered the oath of office by Kishtwar Deputy Commissioner Ashok Sharma on February 18, last year. Being DDC chairperson, she holds the status of a minister of state in the UT administration.
The Pakal Dul hydro electric power project is expected to complete by the end of 2023 and start operations from March 2024. Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the the foundation stone for the project in May 2018. The project is being constructed by Chenab Valley Power Projects Limited (CVPPL) on Marusadar river, a tributary of Chenab river at an estimated cost of Rs 8112.12 crore. For civil works of the dam, CVPPL has allotted contract to Jaiparkash Associated Limited.
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The dharna had led to the suspension of work on the project. However, work resumed on Friday afternoon after Thakur appealed to the workers to resume work, and asked local residents to return to their homes to observe Covid-appropriate behaviour.
“We are, at present, only five people holding the dharna,” Thakur said, adding that apart from her, the others include Faiz-ul-Hussain, the DDC member from Nagseni; Babu Lal Bhandari, the sarpanch of Lopara Panchayat; and one Raja Thakur. DDC member from Palmar, Tahir Masood, was also part of the Dharna, but left for home on Friday afternoon, she said.
“I have conveyed to the administration that I will continue to hold the dharna at the project site until issues concerning the local people are met,” Pooja Thakur told The Indian Express via phone from the site of the dharna.
Of the 14 members directly elected to the DDC, five are from the NC, four are from the Congress party, three from the BJP and two are Independents. After a post-poll understanding between the NC and the Congress, the former got the post of chairperson, and the post of vice-chairperson went to the latter’s Saima Lone. Elected chairpersons of the Block Development Councils in the district also form part of the DDC, but they do not have the power to elect its chairperson.
Relations between members of the Kishtwar DDC and the local administration have never been smooth. The latest issue began on January 18, when Pooja Thakur convened a meeting of DDC members and officials from the civil administration.
However, the elected public representatives led by Thakur walked out of the meeting alleging that the administration was not paying any heed to local issues including the development works listed by them. This assumed significance as even the BJP members of the council took part in the walkout, along with members of the NC and the Congress.
“What is the purpose of repeatedly raising the same issue by attending every council meeting when administration does not have to resolve any,” asked Lalita Devi, a BJP member and Block Development Council (BDC) chairperson from Palmar. “Without initiating work on the plans already submitted by us, the administration wants us to vet plans for next financial year,” she said, adding that the administration is yet to make payments for most of the works done by job card holders under MGNREGA.
Another BDC chairperson, Kishori Shan from Thakraie, who also belongs to the BJP and was among those who walked out, also complained that the administration was not taking issues raised by them seriously.
DDC chairperson Thakur said the meeting was convened to discuss issues like the reopening of roads closed due to snowfall, supply of ration, engagement of locals as unskilled workers at the ongoing Pakal Dul hydro electric power project and payment of compensation to people whose land was taken over for the project.
Nearly 250 families at Sourbati were rendered landless and relocated after work started on the project in 2018, Thakur said. However, while the administration was yet to pay compensation to 25 families who had fully grown fruit plants on their land, the CVPPL was not engaging locals for any job even when it had recently brought 80 workers from Rajasthan for grouting work, she said.
During the meeting, a DDC member wanted to raise an issue, but the Additional District Development Commissioner Sham Lal interrupted him saying he could not speak as per protocol. Thereafter, the latter started telling the members about the powers and functions of the 29 departments transferred to them by the government, prompting them to walk out from the meeting, Thakur said.
The ADDC, however, denied the charge, saying that he, as Chief Executive Officer of the DDC, was simply responding to the demand of a member who wanted to know about their powers and functions.
Kishtwar Deputy Commissioner Ashok Sharma said the walkout was pre-planned. “Even yesterday, I had sent a team of officials led by Additional Deputy Commissioner Kishori Lal there for negotiations.”
“We are ready to sort out issues concerning district administration, but they are demanding engagement of 600-700 people from Dangdoru in the hydro electric project. This is not in our hands as the work on the project is being executed by a private contractor,” he said.
About the issue of compensation to families left out in the area, he said there have been complaints of irregularities in the matter, and police are investigating. “Which Deputy Commissioner will get himself handcuffed by releasing the money without waiting for the verification?” he asked.
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