It is 215 kilometres by road from Jammu, the winter capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), to the district of Kishtwar, where the mighty Chenab river dissects the valley. Another 74 kilometres away is Marwah Tehsil, the site of Bursar Hydroelectric Power Project.
The local villagers mostly farmers, labourers, and students here have been protesting and resisting the planned construction of the power project on Marusudar river, which is a tributary of river Chenab and passes through dozens of villages in Marwah.
The project is planned as a storage scheme on river Marusudar with an installed capacity of 800 MW. The dam will be the first storage project constructed by India under the Indus Waters Treaty, 1960, which has granted a permissible storage of 3.6 million acre-foot (MAF). The estimated cost of the project is Rs 246 billion (USD 3.73 billion).
The power project involves the construction of a 289 metre-high dam which will submerge an area of about 14.43 square kilometres which is mainly comprises agricultural fields and open forests along with 3.37 square kilometres of land which is required for construction purposes.
The execution of the project has been entrusted to National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) which believes that it will provide the energy benefit to all the downstream projects on river Chenab like Pakal Dul, Dulhasti, Rattle, Baglihar, Salal and Sawalkot projects especially during the lean season along with power generation.
The clearance for the dam has been quicker than usual, but the construction faces local opposition. The agitation against the dam has been in full swing since October 2017 after NHPC officials and the District Development Commissioner of Kishtwar visited the affected villages.
“They visited people in Tehrna and Hanzal village to motivate them over the construction of the dam, but people were against it. Two weeks later, the Deputy Commissioner during an interview on the radio said that 85% of the people support it, which was a flat lie,” said Sheikh Zaffar (27) from village Chinjer in Marwah.
The Ministry of Water Resources on August 4, 2016, declared Bursar hydroelectric project a National Project along with 16 other projects. The progress of work on a National Project is monitored by Central Water Commission (CWC) and a high powered steering committee headed by Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation also reviews the implementation of National Projects.
Impact on livelihoods and ecology
The villagers have constituted a Pakal-Bursar Dam Committee on April 5, 2018. Interestingly enough it is led by a young student, Yasin Ahmed Sheikh, who is 25 years old. On Monday, April 16, thousands of people from 47 villages marched towards Eidgah in Marwah where people raised slogans against the government and NHPC which is executing the project.
“If the dam is constructed, it will not only affect people but also the delicate environment of Marwah. Our forests will be gone, our rich flora and fauna will be in danger. It will destroy our ecology,” Yasin Ahmed Sheikh told the crowd. “This dam is not about the development of the people or the area, but to destroy the livelihood and ecology,” he added.
While speaking to thethirdpole.net, Sheikh said, “A few years ago when the team came to survey the area we were told that they are working on some project which will develop the area. The people of the area – being illiterate – didn’t know that it was going to displace them.”
He says that people were expecting jobs for their children, economic growth of the area but not at the cost of giving up their homes which is their blood and sweat.
“This dam is going to have a very grave impact on our people and the environment. People are going to lose their houses, lands, and everything they have made out of their blood and sweat,” he told thethirdpole.net.
According to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report tabled by experts from Kashmir University in September 2017, the construction of the dam will affect seven revenue villages comprising of 18 hamlets. Out of total 1,052 families which will be affected families, 336 families (1,673 persons) will be displaced from their villages.
“The villagers rallied against the dam when we had visited the area for EIA report,” said a member of EIA team who wished to stay anonymous. “They were against the dam and their demand was to reduce the height of the dam so that they are not displaced and we mentioned it in the report, but that wasn’t taken into consideration by the concerned authorities.”
Abdul Rehman (55) from the village of Deharana, is a farmer who grows maize, rice, pulses, and walnuts. It is the only source of income for him and his eight family members. He has been having sleepless nights since the day he has heard that dam will lead to their eviction.
“We have been cultivating these lands since decades. We never thought that one day we will be told to leave them and shift to some other place,” Rehman told thethirdpole.net.
“Our existence is defined by these lands. Our hands can only grow the crop. We don’t have alternate skills to do other kinds of work. If we are evicted from here, I don’t know how we will survive,” he added.