Farmers, small shop holders and small land owners from Mandi district in Himachal Pradesh are protesting against the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI)s fourlane projects across the State, including the KalkaShimla highway, PathankotMandi highway, MataurHamirpurShimla highway and KiratpurManali highway. At least 40,000 families in the districts through which the highway will pass are estimated to lose their lands, homes and livelihoods.
Work for the KiratpurManali fourlane project in Mandi district began in 2012 and has affected both forest and nonforest land. NHAI has awarded the concession of this 84.38kilometre highway to Kiratpur Ner Chowk Expressway Limited. The 2,291crore project will also affect Aut, Nagwain, Panarsa and Balichowki villages in Mandi, displacing close to 10,000 residents.
In January 2018, 350 families were displaced without proper compensation. In Thalout, Aut, Dador and Panarsa villages, 90 per cent of the market has been wiped off, and people have vacated their homes and shops.
In October, under the banner of Fourlane Sangharsh Samiti headed by Kushal Thakur, a local farmer, people in Nagwain village protested against the low compensation offered, loss of local market economies and deteriorating soil and water content in areas surrounding the construction of the project. People whose houses were demolished and who have lost their livelihood have not been identified for rehabilitation. In the past four years, they have protested several times and submitted multiple memorandums without much success.
The slow pace of work on the highways is adding to the problems faced by those displaced. Joginder Walia, who runs a nonprofit near Sundernagar, pointed out that even though 350 families were displaced last year, work on five tunnels near Kainchi Mor has been suspended since 2014. The construction of these tunnels as part of the fourlane highway is supposed to be under a publicprivate partnership. The administration announced a compensation for the displaced people in January this year, but they are yet to receive any money, Walia told Land Conflict Watch, underlining the administrative apathy towards the affected people.
The Land Acquisition Act, 2013, mandates the government to provide the affected people a market rate for their property that is acquired for a project or development work, along with solitium (a goodwill amount since a person/family will need to sacrifice his land and livelihood for generations). However, the compensation is still being calculated using an ageold method without considering the current value. There is no transparency and no administrative will to give the people their due, Thakur said.
The state government has assured the Sangharsh Samiti that the Cabinet subcommittee constituted in January 2019 will look into the matter.
The fourlane project was scheduled for completion in November 2016, but NHAI could not meet the deadline. Taking note of the delay, the Himachal Pradesh High Court has pulled up NHAI, observing that it is complicating the situation by running away from responsibility. The project is now expected to be completed this year.