Thursday, November 17, 2011

Development: Are we really growing?

Every place has a story. Some stories are to be shared and some stories are untold. Most of us want to know these untold stories due to curiosity. My curiosity took me to a place called Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh with mmP, an alliance of individuals, institutions and communities who are concerned and affected by mining.

When Sutlej river was dammed to create Govind Sagar lake, Bilaspur was submerged under water in 1954. Inhabitants of this town resurrected the city from scratch up slope of the old one. Things started to look up when big companies like ACC and Jaypee built their cement plants in this area and started mining. People were employed and commercials looked positive. This has been the glorious story that has been shared for ages.

Since we were interested in the story 'untold'. We went to two villages, Panjgai and Davan Kothi and met the villagers to hear their story, their experience of mining that is done in that area.

The houses of these villagers are so close to the mining area that due to blasting, most of the houses have developed cracks on the ceilings and walls. Some of the houses have even crumbled down not able to withstand the vibrations caused by blasting. There is no service available where these grievances can be addressed. These people held our hands and took us to their houses, to show us a glimpse of the houses that stand as the broken mirrors.

Employment was one of the major reasons for the villagers supporting these plants. According to the data of 2001-02, 232 people were employed. Now in 2011, when these people are retiring or there is requirement of new people, people are being hired from outside. Villagers of the area are not given priority because of the different skill set that is required.

Another factor is that the cement that is manufactured in their area, is sold to them at a higher price than in other states like Punjab. The difference is 20-25 INR per sack.

The environmental damage is huge. The soil in the area is losing its fertility. The crops are getting affected by the dust deposited on them which is generated by mining and the cement plants. The sewage and chemical waste is added to Sutlej river. On an average about 2000 trucks travel daily, causing a lot of pollution.

The greatest threat is to the life of the people who are either directly or indirectly impacted by mining. Various ailments are prevalent in the area. People suffer from asthma, TB, Skin diseases and Cancer. Silicosis is one of the most dangerous and common diseases that one suffers from in these areas. However, there is no written documentation to support it. The cement plants are liable to compensate people affected with Silicosis, an amount of 10 lakh INR. In order to save this amount, doctors are directed not to diagnose this disease. So they call it TB and treat the patient for TB, not caring for their lives.

Fed up of the constant neglect, the villagers are now demanding for the following:

  1. 1. 26% of the total production by the plants, so that they can get a seat on the board.
  2. 2. Out of 4 trucks, 1 truck of the mining should be given to them, so that they can generate money for their village.
  3. They want their children to be trained and given a fair chance by getting employed by these plants.
  4. They want a scientific study and research to be done, so that the impact of mining can be documented.
  5. They want a health camp where doctors from outside should be called and a health check up for Silicosis should be done exclusively.

With the attempt of writing this, I have tried to share the untold story of the villagers in Bilaspur. Hopefully we will be able to see that development at the superficial level would only push us back.

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