A town divided

Published : Nov 03, 2006 00:00 IST

IF the rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) packages of the Upper Krishna Project (UKP) caused consternation in the rural areas, the submergence of a third of Bagalkot and the town's shifting proved a bigger bugbear. Initially it was suggested that a wall be constructed around the town, with a population of around 90,000, to protect it from the water stored. The idea was quickly abandoned as it was realised that a threat of a breach would be a constant fear. The government then acquired 4,320 acres (1 acre = 0.4 hectare) of land six kilometres away from Bagalkot, off the Raichur-Belgaum State highway, and the architect Charles Correa was commissioned to design a new town called Navnagar.

Navnagar is divided into 63 sectors, 56 of them meant exclusively for project-displaced families. Of these, 35 are residential sectors, where sites measuring from 72 square metres to 600 sq m have been allotted either free or at the rate of Rs.6 a square foot (1 sq km = 11.1 sq ft). from a ghost town, Navnagar has turned into "a clean, self-contained township". According to the Bagalkot Town Development Authority, so far 4,719 families that live in structures that correspond with a backwater level of 512 m in the Alamatti dam reservoir area have been provided with 7,590 sites.

Even after much of the confusion over the entitlement to and allotment of sites was set right, the fact that only around 27,000 families were given sites and only some of them have moved out, has resulted in numerous logistical problems. The first batch of families to shift were those living closest to the riverbank, and as is often the case, these were engaged in the lowest paid jobs. Although they were allotted sites, they were not provided a construction grant. This led to a small shantytown springing up in Navnagar. Members of the family commute 6 km to Bagalkot, when they work, and back every day.

Again, while the government has shifted the Agricultural Produce and Marketing Committee yard to Navnagar, the wholesale and retail markets are still in Bagalkot. Similarly, Bagalkot's government hospital, schools, and the municipal office are located in Navnagar. Residents of Bagalkot would like the Karnataka government to shift the entire town to Navnagar. Their argument is that while the government treated entire villages as project-affected when they were only partly submerged, the same norms have not been followed in the case of the town.

The government did formulate a plan in 2002 that would allow the shifting of 6,772 more families to Navnagar. But not just the costs, Rs.414 crores, but also the fact that many of them had taken their compensation but refused to move out of their old structures has made the government wiser.

In Bagalkot, over 900 structures that have been acquired are yet to be demolished, with the residents preferring not to vacate them. According to engineers at the Bagalkot Town Development Authority, a demolition of a number of these structures could result in "exposing the town's only bazaar to the waterfront". However, informed sources told Frontline that the government would rather wait for permission to raise the height of the Alamatti dam before acquiring any more structures in Bagalkot. Until then the residents of the two towns will have to continue their journey back and forth.

Ravi Sharma
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