The Bold Voice of J&K

‘Village Sunari-from civilization to desolation’

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Ankush Sharma

Fear, anguish and uncertainty can be seen writ large on their faces. A deluge can endanger their lives. No facility of hospitals, schools, transport and clean drinking water. This is the situation faced by remaining few families living in this village.
This article, however, can be seen through two prisms; direct and indirect. Directly, the story of this particular village and indirectly, the story of those dying villages which are victims of urbanisation leading to rural-urban migration hence resulting into overcrowding of cities creating dent in population of hundreds of villages.
This village, named “Sunari” surrounded by water of Ranjit Sagar Dam located in Basohli Tehsil of Kathua district in State J&K. As its name suggests, it was a beautiful place. This village was known for its connection with nature as beautiful plants and trees, animals like cow, buffalo, ox, horse etc, and birds like sparrow, Pigeon, Parrot and many more. Also, a small river around it must not be forgotten which reflected solace and peace before dam had established.
“After partition, when we left our birthplace which is now in PoK, we settled here in near 60’s. Our whole community was growing here happily and now electricity had also stepped here but this dam destroyed everything,” says Vishvanath, one of the oldest inhabitants of the village.
At the end of last century, electricity stepped here, but meanwhile, Ranjit Sagar Dam established. Subsequently, this village which was known for naturalness started losing its currency as trees came under water which also took away habitat of birds. Fields of villagers especially at lower altitude submerged and also there was no source of clean water left. Dam brought havoc for the village and it compelled almost every family to migrate leaving behind just a few families which still live here in great difficulties. Now electricity also, is just left on papers.
“Everyone moved forward, this dam forced them to leave this beautiful land which nurtured them for a half century. I love this place so I decided to live here with my wife irrespective of difficulties. We both are old but most importantly we are happy,” adds Vishvanath.
Now families are living here with great difficulties as there is no facility of hospitals, schools, transport and also they have to walk miles for clean drinking water. They are marooned; it takes hours to reach the town. There is nothing remaining here which could encourage livelihood except love for motherland, agriculture and some pet animals. The only thing which still perpetuates is silence.
“This place is getting worse and worse day by day. I am also thinking to migrate from here. I consider my decision of not leaving this place regretful. The government never looked back at us. Living here is like living on Mars,” says another inhabitant of the village.
Now remaining families are about to migrate from this village. There is no hope of resettlement of people. It sounds strange; electricity generated by this dam has lightened many villages and cities but took away the light of this village. This dam led to myriad socio- economical and especially ecological consequences.
At one corner, dam may be providing irrigation facilities to many, eventually enhancing their subsistence but on the cost of large fallow tracts of land in many villages like Sunari. These fields are left uncultivated, covered with arid thorny vegetation which may provide some food for cattle.
Further, dam may have protected many from flooding but again by compromising huge numbers of forests and fertile lands of many villages upstream , hence destroying the livelihood of hundreds of people and thousands of birds and animals which can’t be traced now.
With ongoing process of urbanisation and globalisation, stress has been increased phenomenally on urban land resulting into severe problems like Slums, polluted and unhealthy air, water and environment, hence increasing health expanses and reducing the efficiency of human resource. Dams, product of urbanization, however are one aspect, adding to them underdevelopment of villages and meager life supporting facilities has faded the rural shininess.
Land resource, in urban areas, is becoming scarce asset while it remains unproductive and desolated in rural areas despite its capability to support diverse activities from agriculture, horticulture to industries. Hence, there is an urgent need to use large expanses of omnipotent rural land in order to absorb the huge pressure of urban areas.
Agriculture or forestry can be one of the options. However, as far as this village is concerned, it is endowed with beautiful streams of the river flowing on its both sides enhancing its scenic beauty making it an attractive place for nature lovers. Hence, this place has huge potential for ecotourism.
Moreover, if we move out of ecological aspect, it has huge potential in economic aspect. As this place is isolated from settlements, it can be used as an industrial hub. It would have two folds significance; one is its huge carbon sinks i.e. forests and other its location i.e. away from the population would protect people from severe consequences of pollution. This could be applied to other villages as well.
However, there are apprehensions as well; Industries would definitely damage the natural environment. However, its intensity can be controlled by properly following norms like emission norms, water treatment, etc. Further, Environment Impact Assessment needs to be properly carried out. But ironically, in India, properly following the procedure is a seldom event. So, this would leave environment vulnerable to pollution and damage.
Hence, any step should be encouraged only by keeping all aspects in mind. Fortunately, Govt. has also shown its intensions through various schemes, although results would lie on their effective implementation. February this year witnessed the launching of “Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Rurban Mission” (SPMRM) which aims to spur social, economic and infrastructure development in rural areas by developing a cluster of 300 Smart Villages over the next 3 years across the country in the first phase. More clusters will be identified with the progress of the scheme.
(The author is an engineering graduate)

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