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Stories From Renuka Valley as It Languishes in the Shadow of an Unbuilt Dam

April 15 is celebrated every year as Himachal Day. It was on this day that Himachal Pradesh was declared a Union territory separate from the Punjab Hill States in 1948. Several peasant struggles against bonded labour in the hills led to the emergence of a vision of an autonomous identity for the region, centred around the social and economic development of the hill-people in the pre-Independence period. The Sirmaur region of the state was one centre of these struggles. We recorded the prevailing narrative in the lives of peasants of the Renuka Valley in this region.

A river named Giri carved out this valley millions of years ago to make its way and meet the Yamuna, a part of the Ganga river basin. This region of Sirmaur is well known for its production of ginger. According to official records, the cultivated area in the district is over 70,000 hectares, which was about 78% of the total cultivated area when checked a few years ago. And Sirmaur alone produced 83% of the state’s total ginger output. A few years ago, about 78% of the area in Sirmaur was under ginger, producing 83% of Himachal Pradesh’s total output. However, while cash crops like ginger, garlic, tomatoes and peas are common, subsistence agriculture dominates. Maize and wheat are the major produce; and livestock rearing also forms an important component of what is largely an agrarian rural economy.

For the last few decades, plans have been hatched and re-hatched to build the 148-metre-high Renuka dam on the Giri to reserve water and so quench the thirst of the bottomless pit called Delhi. And in the last few years, the Himachal Pradesh government has taken a lead to ensure that these plans materialise by initiating land acquisition proceedings for the dam. It was declared a ‘national’ project in 2009.

It isn’t clear how urgently Delhi will need, or needs, water from the unbuilt dam…………… Read full story

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