While travelling along the Tehri dam reservoir, which covers parts of the Bhagirathi and Bhilangana valleys, one can see clusters of houses spread on its periphery.

One of these clusters is the Madan Negi area, comprising of five villages — Kangsali, Khola, Jalwalgaon, Sandna, and Kathuli. One has to cross the reservoir, either by road or by ropeway, and then walk for about 2 km to reach the Madan Negi market. Collapsed houses, roads prone to getting blocked by the slightest rainfall, landslips, and land sinking — this is what has become of Madan Negi due to the reservoir.

Pointing to a collapsed building, Prem Dutt Juyal, president of the Baandh Prabhavit Sangharsh Samiti — an organisation which was formed in 2001 to demand rehabilitation of 1,336 families in the area affected by the dam — said: “It belonged to a villager who retired from the Army and built the house. When the house was complete, it collapsed. The owner hadn’t even started residing in it.”

It was one of the several buildings that either collapsed or developed cracks.

Reneging on promises

In the 2009 general election, the former Chief Minister, Vijay Bahuguna, won from Tehri. However, in the 2012 by-elections, his son Saket lost to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Mala Rajya Laxmi Shah by 22,694 votes.

Initially, the people of Madan Negi had decided to boycott the elections due to delay in rehabilitation. However, Mr. Vijay Bahuguna, Mr. Juyal said, assured him that the Samiti’s demand for rehabilitation would be met with if the villagers voted for his son. On September 30 the same year, a ‘maha panchayat’ was held at which State Education Minister Mantri Prasad Naithani urged the villagers to vote for the Congress in the by-election. After several rounds of conversations with Mr. Naithani and Mr. Bahuguna, Mr. Juyal assured them that the people of the Madan Negi would vote for the Congress.

More than 70 per cent of the 5,000 voters kept their word. “Though he [Saket] lost but we voted for him, and his father was the Chief Minister till January this year. He should have kept his promise,” Mr Juyal said.

In Madan Negi, which is around 65 km from the district headquarters of New Tehri town, Mr. Juyal’s commands are acted on. Mangla Devi, an illiterate daily wage labourer from the Khola village said: “We are illiterate and we don’t understand politics. We will vote for the party that Juyalji asks us to vote for.”

According to Mr. Juyal, this time it is the BJP candidate, Mala Rajya Laxmi Shah, who has stepped up for the people of the area. Tehri District Magistrate Yugal Kishore Pant, who is also the Director of Rehabilitation, said: “There are 414 families in the periphery of the Tehri dam reservoir that come under the ambit of rehabilitation. These include the families that have to be given rehabilitation under the Tehri Dam Rehabilitation Policy and the Collateral Damage Policy.”

The 1,336 families affected must also be identified and given rehabilitation, Mr Juyal said, showing a report of the Geological Survey of India and several other expert committee reports that mentioned how fragile the area is, and recommended that the residents must be given rehabilitation.