Residents of Himachal’s Kangra hamlets to boycott polls

May 4th, 2009 - 11:25 am ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party Kangra (Himachal Pradesh), May 4 (IANS) Residents of the rugged, inhospitable areas comprising more than 40 villages here have barred politicians from canvassing. They are boycotting the elections until they are assured that they won’t be asked to move out of the Dhauladhar Wildlife Sanctuary.
“No entry for politicians”, read banners of the Chhota Bhangal and Bara Bhangal panchayats having more than 10,000 voters in Kangra parliamentary constituency.

Residents of Swar village under the Chhota Bhangal panchayat said this was their last resort to draw the attention of authorities to their problems.

“The government is forcing us to move out of the Dhauladhar Wildlife Sanctuary… this is not possible. The decision (to rehabilitate villagers) would affect the livelihood of thousands of tribal people,” Bhrigu Nath, village head, told IANS.

“Till date no politician has dared to visit our area. We will also boycott the polls,” he added.

The panchayats are part of the Dhauladhar Wildlife Sanctuary, which spreads over 944 sq km with altitudes above 3,000 metres.

“We have petitioned the government several times. Now, election is the best time to highlight our grievances,” Bara Bhangal panchayat head Bhim Singh said.

He said after the notification of the sanctuary their entry into the forest had been banned and their local rights had come to an end.

“The government should come out with a proper rehabilitation plan,” he added.

Congress sitting MP Chander Kumar, who is re-contesting the elections from Kangra, said: “We are aware of their problems. We will again try to delimitate the boundaries of the sanctuary to minimise rehabilitation of villagers.”

Similarly, Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Rajan Sushant said: “Our government will come out with a proper rehabilitation plan for the affected villages. Arrangements would be made for generating employment opportunities for them.”

Interestingly, the state’s remotest polling station is also located in Bara Bhangal.

“Bara Bhangal is not accessible by road. It’s the remotest polling station in the state. It is 65 km from the last village that is connected by road. Election material will be sent there either through porters or airlifted,” Himachal Chief Electoral Officer Anil Khachi said.

“The polling exercise is a difficult task in the state as 43 polling stations are located at a distance of 10 km or more from the last place connected by road,” he said.

The hill state has 2,257,310 women voters out of 4,604,832 in all. The highest number of voters - 1,199,820 - is in the Kangra parliamentary constituency, followed by Hamirpur (1,187,704), Mandi (1,111,787) and Shimla (1,105,521).

Polling for the four Lok Sabha seats in Himachal Pradesh - Shimla, Kangra, Mandi and Hamirpur - is scheduled for May 13.

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