Uneasy calm in border hamlets over Kulsi dam

Villagers to submit memoranda to Assam, State authorities 

From Saurav Borah

UKIAM (Chaygaon): An uneasy calm prevails among the 30-odd villages along the Assam-Meghalaya border with the Kulsi dam project hitting the limelight and being discussed in the corridors of power of late.
Even as Meghalaya awaits the final detailed project report of the national project of Brahmaputra Board before taking a decision, the recent developments, starting from a meeting held on April 21 this year between the two governments and a joint inspection that led to a consensus on going ahead with the DPR a few days later, have in a way stirred a hornet’s nest on the ground.
“We are all against the project which is bound to spell disaster for us. Most of the 33 villages are likely to be under water, farm lands and homes will be destroyed,” Jawaharlal R Marak, the president of the Ukiam-Kyrshai (Assam-Meghalaya) Joint Public Suraksha Committee, told The Shillong Times here on Saturday.
A meeting was held on Saturday afternoon at Ukiam, around 77km to the west of Guwahati, where village heads and other representatives of 33 hamlets resolved to stage a democratic agitation if their pleas against the dam project go unheard in the event of a no-objection to the project from Meghalaya.
“But first, we will submit memoranda to all relevant authorities in both states preferably by this month with a plea to stall the project. We will also do a survey on our part to ascertain the loss of land and property in the 33 villages if the project gets the nod and the estimated damages would be made known to the authorities of both states,” Marak said.
He said that over 20,000 villagers will be affected by the project. Most of the villages are located in Assam. 
“We do not want any compensation as we learn that there are provisions under national projects. What we want is peaceful co-existence in our own land,” Marak said. 
Echoes Plistar Syiem, the vice president of the committee and an elderly resident of Kyrshai, a border hamlet in West Khasi Hills, “We don’t want to part with lands inherited from our ancestors no matter how big the compensation package is. We are all emotionally attached to our villages and hence do not want any development that reduces us to refugees in our own state.”
The Kulsi multipurpose project, which, according to official records,  is the only national project in Assam under Eleventh Five Year Plan, envisages construction of a 62m high concrete dam over Kulsi river connecting Ri Bhoi and Kamrup districts  to harness its potential for irrigation and power generation. 
The project cost, according to an official estimate of June 2017, will be to the tune of Rs 1454.95 crore.   
Information sought through an RTI application recently revealed that if the dam is constructed, an area of 15.55 square  km of land in Assam and 5.75 square km in Meghalaya will affected by reservoir submergence. 
Moreover, for about 200-odd boatmen whose livelihoods hinge on the Drone, Dilma and Sree rivers that converge at Kulsi, the project might result in a “massive hit on their primary occupation”.
Asked casually what he thinks of the dam, Jicky Nongbah, a young boatman from Rajabala in West Khasi Hills, answered with an affirmative “No”, as it would invariably end his daily drill of ferrying commuters from Meghalaya to Assam and back. 
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. “I will lose the bonus of making a quick buck during the festival and picnic seasons. Besides, I stand to lose the additional money I earn by engaging in fishing,” he said. 

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