KHUNDRU VICTIMS STILL FEEL UNSAFE
Seek proper compensation, rehabilitation
Khundru, Jan 16: More than two years after the valley’s biggest ammunition depot at Khundru in south Kashmir’s Islamabad district was burnt in an accidental fire, uncomfortable questions regarding the management of such sensitive installations are being raised by the civilians and many are asking what is taking the authorities so long to rehabilitate them.
The residents of Sombran village- one of the worst hit- say life has become uncertain after the incident. The fear psychosis has refused to go away. Almost all survivors say they won’t feel safe unless the ammunition depot is shifted from the area.
“We are still very scared. Agar abhi siren baja toh abhi bhaag jayenge (If the siren rings right now, we’ll run away),” says Priya Raina, 19, who lives in the vicinity of the depot.
Spread over 7 sq kms, the depot caught fire on August 11, 2007, resulting in 18 deaths and several injuries, apart from the major monetary and property losses suffered by the residents of the area. The rehabilitation, however, hasn’t come through yet, despite the risks of reoccurrence being high.
P.K Raina, 44, complains, “I work as an operator in the depot and personally feel that there should be no inhabitation within a radius of 3 kms of the depot. We want to go away but they must give the villagers our land together; not in fragmented pieces.”
Even as villagers continue to live in constant fear, the basic issues remain unaddressed. The compensation received for the damage to property was dismally low and unfair, many claim.
Being in the vicinity of the fire, Khundru, Sombran and Pohlu were the worst affected villages, followed by Koother, Naugam and others. Yet the relief funds were distributed equally among 13 villages. Moreover, the villagers say the assessment and evaluation of losses wasn’t proper. Three instalments had been promised out of which one is still pending.
Pyarelal Ambardar, 47, another resident of Sombran explains, “No relief was given by the army. The state Government gave it but the relief should have been more in the worst affected areas. Also, everybody was given equal amounts- regardless of whether a mere window was broken or the whole house damaged.”
The residents pointed out the decline in soil quality. After the ammunition shells landed in the fields, there was no cultivation the following season. “Since then, the cultivation is much less than the past years. That loss wasn’t remunerated. Now, the people are even scared to cultivate further owing to the fear of explosives going off again”, he adds.
The ammunition depot was established in Khundru on the land taken on lease of 50 years from the local residents. Ambardar, owning 32 canals, says the rent paid by the Government is very less. “I think it has now been increased to around Rs 300 from the last year’s Rs 190 per month. If I sell my land, it will fetch at least Rs 1 lakh per canal. Even the fodder for our cows comes for around 400 rupees a month.”
Life has been tough for these people who still seek rehabilitation and their right to safety. Usha Raina, 38, says, “We were born to see the depot here but we haven’t given our land willingly. If the army needs something, it will take it by hook or crook. All we demand now is a fair compensation for our losses for our land and protection.”
Recounting the day, Priya Raina, 19, says, “We were having our breakfast when we saw the fire that morning. The flames leapt high and though we didn’t hear the shots, the sight of the fire was scary. People were running and told us to get as far as possible. We ran barefoot.”
“We reached a Pandit family’s house in Chhatragul in an army’s vehicle and stayed there for a night. The next day we went to Mattan and stayed in an ashram for a day. Later, quarters were allotted to us by the Government and we stayed there for 3 months before returning to our home,” she explains.
On return, most families here realised that all houses had to be repaired. The doors were broken, ceilings damaged and glasses shattered.
Lastupdate on : Sat, 16 Jan 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 16 Jan 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 17 Jan 2010 00:00:00 IST
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