Though Kanakwal village, close to the Bathinda refinery, had boycotted the panchayat elections two years ago, protesting the lack of action to combat pollution from the refinery, the village residnets along with neighbours from Phollokhari, which is equally pollution-hit, enthusiastically exercised their democratic rights during the bypoll held here on Thursday. The villages are part of Talwandi Sabo.
While Kanakwal recorded 86.8 per cent polling, Phollukhari fared marginally better with 90.6 per cent polling. Voters however have categorically stated that will be their last polls if they a solution is not found to combat growing noise and air pollution from the refinery.
“Skin disorders, asthma are some of the problems being faced by us. The officers should spend at least a week and even the SAD leaders as well. This time we have voted with a hope that we will be heard and some solution will be given to our problems before 2017 or we will not vote in the Vidhan Sabha polls,” said Baldev Singh, a resident of Phullokhari. Of the 1,380 votes, Phullokhari polled 1,255 votes while 1,114 of the 1,280 voters exercised their franchise in Kanakwal.
The village residents found sympathy from staff on polling duty who slept inside the Government Elementary School on Wednesday night. “A lot of noise was coming last night as if some aeroplane was taking off. We wonder how the villagers live here,” said a police staff member who did not want to be named.
Bhakar Singh, nambardar of Kanakwal village, said, “Already our case of relocation is under consideration and the entire village wants to shift out. Last night sound pollution was very less, the sound when refinery is fully operational is much more. Two months had passed peacefully (the refinery had been shut for renovation) and now it seems that once again we need to bear the sound and air pollution”. He added, “We will be staging dharnas and agitations, if the government does not provide us a solution soon”.