A decade of promises later, landslide victims of Saddal continue their struggle for rehabilitation

As the displaced villagers remain trapped in squalid conditions, the government’s grand vision of transforming it into a “smart village” lies in ruins.

Published : Apr 12, 2024 18:46 IST - 5 MINS READ

In September 2014, a massive mudslide triggered by heavy rains turned the village, mostly inhabited by Dalits, into a mass grave.

In September 2014, a massive mudslide triggered by heavy rains turned the village, mostly inhabited by Dalits, into a mass grave. | Photo Credit: Ashutosh Sharma

“He has forgotten that he had adopted us,” says Mithu Ram. Ram, a daily wage labourer from Saddal, a small Himalayan village in Jammu and Kashmir’s Udhampur district, is referring to Jitendra Singh, the local MP and a Union Minister of State with the Prime Minister’s Office. A decade ago, in 2014, when the village faced a natural disaster that claimed at least 40 lives, Singh apparently “adopted” the hilly village under the village development programme Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, with the promise of transforming it into a “smart village”, one of the first of its kind in the country.

The BJP leader, seeking a third term from the constituency, had pledged in a press conference to develop the village as Jammu and Kashmir’s first smart village: “The new village will have all the amenities available in a smart village or town, including beauty salons and parlours”. However, despite his promises, Singh did not sign any documents or make legal claims of adopting the village, leaving the displaced people stranded.

The disaster

In September 2014, when a massive mudslide triggered by heavy rains turned the village, mostly inhabited by Dalits, into a mass grave, 134 families were left landless and homeless. The minister was then quoted in The Indian Express as saying, “Now as India marches into an era of smart towns and villages, the first smart village in Jammu and Kashmir will be built on the ruins of this flood-hit village.” The project was supposed to be completed by mid-2016. Until then, most of the displaced families were temporarily housed in two dilapidated tenements at Sui Chakhar, on the outskirts of Udhampur town. However, after waiting for official assistance for several years, many families dispersed in search of livelihood opportunities, and only about 45 displaced families remain, all Dalits, camped at Sui Chakhar.

Also Read | Anantnag-Rajouri: New seat, old battles

Since the two buildings, resembling warehouses, lack proper rooms and have been partitioned with plywood sheets to accommodate families, villagers have been living in inhuman conditions. “How can ten people live inside a small room—parents, sons, daughters-in-law, and other children packed into a single room?” asks Sushma Devi, explaining that the families at the camp have grown over the years, aggravating their problems.

Others lament the government’s failure to deliver the benefits promised under welfare schemes. “Except for the monthly five kilograms of free food ration for every camp inmate, we are not receiving any kind of relief or financial assistance from any source,” says Mithu Ram. While the administration provided cooking gas cylinders and stoves to 17 affected families at the camping site under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, the villagers say they cannot afford to refill the cylinders.

While many families have left in search of livelihood opportunities, about 45 displaced families remain camped at Sui Chakhar.

While many families have left in search of livelihood opportunities, about 45 displaced families remain camped at Sui Chakhar. | Photo Credit: Ashutosh Sharma

The camp inmates complained that despite several requests, the local administration has not even replaced the worn-out tin sheets of the two buildings. “When it rains, our rooms get flooded,” says Sushma Kumari. “People say (PM) Modi has been doing a lot of things… providing homes and everything. But he hasn’t done anything for the poor like us. We remain invisible to the government and keep suffering during winter, summer, and rain...”

In fact, in 2014, experts had advised the administration against resettling villagers in Saddal again, fearing another disaster in the future. Those who returned to the village found the area unsuitable for cultivation and human habitation after rocks, boulders, tons of mud, and uprooted trees devoured almost everything.

The bigger picture

Saddal village is also a grim reminder of the prolonged struggle for rehabilitation and justice for survivors of natural disasters such as landslides. Such incidents have increased manifold in the past few decades due to deforestation and poorly planned developmental projects in the region.

According to G.M. Bhat, a former head professor at the Department of Geology of Jammu University, the government has not announced any concrete rehabilitation policy for them. “Even the families displaced due to land subsidence in Doda district’s Thathri have relocated to other places on their own”. In February 2023, as many as 300 persons were displaced from Thathri, a mountain town on the left bank of the river Chenab along the national highway connecting Srinagar, as the houses developed cracks due to land subsidence.

Five years and several official assurances after the landslide, the villagers displaced from Saddal had to move the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. In 2021, the court directed the Union Territory (UT) administration to complete the rehabilitation process promptly. Additional Advocate General (AAG) Aseem Sawhney, representing the UT administration, informed the court that work on the government’s plan to rehabilitate them in nearby Mansar was progressing rapidly.

However, the reality falls short of the promises made on paper. The displaced villagers have gained less through their legal battle than what the UT administration claims to offer to landless beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana under the J&K Land for Landless Scheme 2024.

Also Read | Aragam, Kashmir’s first book village is ready for bibliophiles and tourists

The battle continues to be long and arduous for the inmates with barely any success. It was only after the court’s intervention that toilets were set up for displaced persons at the Sui Chakhar campsite. Advocate Deepika Mahajan, a Jammu-based lawyer, filed a petition on behalf of the 45 families camping at Sui Chakhar. “Only 28 have been allotted five marla land each, and in many cases, it’s actually less than that. The land has been allotted at Mansar along a stream prone to flash floods, while other families have been denied plots on various pretexts,” says Mahajan. Despite experts’ warnings, the local administration is urging the families to return to Saddal. “The court has taken cognizance after I filed an application recently,” she adds.

In attempts to directly involve the government, the inmates say they have attended all the rallies of the ruling BJP in Udhampur over the past ten years—but to no avail. As the 2024 election approaches, the people remain disheartened about their situation, with no support or notice from any government or political figure. This time, Jitendra Singh is facing a strong opponent, former State Minister Chaudhary Lal Singh of the Congress, and the villagers are determined. “We will not vote for the BJP if the party doesn’t make us feel reassured about our dignified rehabilitation,” says Mithu Ram.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment