A house for a house

About 10 kilometres from old Tehri, as one travels upstream along the Bhagirathi, is Malidewal village, which has more than 300 families. This will be the first large village to be submerged when the reservoir starts to fill up. The villagers have been given land in Pashulok area in the Terai region. "Only 45 families have started constructing houses in Pashulok,' says Virendra Nautiyal, a resident. There are countless tales of corruption. Different people got different rates for their lands. "We are getting a paltry Rs 40,000 to construct houses in Pashulok. We cannot construct even a single room with that amount in the plains,' says Rukma Devi. In Malidewal, constructing a house is cheap. Slate and mud comes for free. So does wood. The villagers only need to buy a little cement. "All we want is that they give us the same kinds of houses that we have here, and we do not want any money as house construction assistance. A house for a house,' demands Magi Devi.

But will the villagers find an environment as secure as the one they have been displaced from? "No one has ever locked a house in this village. In Pashulok, even the beams from foundations of houses being constructed are stolen,' says Nautiyal. We will prefer to drown here than going down and living in plains, say many women in unison. This, they say, is swarglok (heaven), and that, indeed, Pashulok.