Itanagar: At a time when the Indian government is putting its best foot forward to upgrade its infrastructure and resources along the international boundaries, a road of operational significance in one of Arunachal Pradesh’s remote districts along the Indo-Sino border has been mired in a land compensation controversy which in turn is causing inordinate delay in its construction.
As Arunachal Pradesh shares 1,126 km border with China, in order to strengthen its forward areas, an ambitious 9.5-km-long Border Roads Task Force (BRTF) road connecting remote Chaglagam village to Rocham in Anjaw district was sanctioned by the Union defence ministry in 2014.
Accordingly, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), the executing agency, in 2017 carried out a land acquisition survey of 3 km (out the 9.5 km) in the said stretch of area starting from 6.5 km near Taflagam village till Rocham and an amount of Rs 24 crore as land compensation was estimated and later sanctioned.
Taflagam village, which lies across the frontier with China, is around 80 km from the McMahon Line which divides the two countries.
However, unfortunately not all of this money reached the actual land owners thanks to an alleged “signature campaign” run by some vested individuals to gain power of attorney for land compensation from the beneficiaries.
The locals prefer to call these individuals “land compensation mafia”.
To gather more details on the issue, when EastMojo reached Chaglagam, this team came across a few locals who claimed that compensation was taken mostly for uncultivated and uninhabited land, however, the most interesting claims were that of some affected land owners who alleged that a group of individuals bogusly made them sign court papers which later gave them the power of attorney to claim the land compensation.
A local resident, who did not want to be named, said that the “land compensation mafia” visited every affected households of the Taflagam village mostly at night asking the land owners to sign the court papers with the assurance of providing them adequate land compensation.
“The innocent villagers without any hesitation signed those papers (mostly gave their thumb impression) which then gave these mafias the power of attorney to claim compensation in their names. Accordingly, when the time of payment arrived, the beneficiaries got the shock of their lives as they were given meager amounts, even lesser than the minimum amount they had expected,” the local said.
Tenalum Taflap, a 48-year old from Taflagam village, told EastMojo that he received only Rs 10 lakh as compensation when he had property worth Rs 50-60 lakh.
“I had large scales of cardamom cultivated land, but the people handling the compensation paid me only Rs 10 lakh,” Tenalum said.
“When I tried to raise my voice against the same, the then circle officer, who was handling the land acquisition estimates presaged me that I would only be paid 20 percent of the amount if I protested,” he added.
Maku Taflap, another beneficiary of Taflagam, had a similar story to tell.
“We knew something was wrong when the signature campaign begun. As they (mafia) knew that I would resist the same, they did not visit my house. We were not sure of whom to seek help from, as even the administration officials were involved,” he said.
A former public leader of the village, on condition of anonymity, said: “When people started to realise that they were scammed, the resistance got bigger in the latter period and complaints started to get registered against the mafias. And when reports of a Social Vigilance Team visiting Chaglagam to investigate the matter surfaced, these people again came and made the land owners sign eight blank papers each.”
“We do not know what declarations were added later in those papers,” he said while adding that work along the road was put to a halt for 11 months following the same.
If “unverified documents” available with EastMojo are to be accounted for, out of the total amount of Rs 24 crore, only Rs 2.21 crore were paid to the beneficiaries and if the former public leader is to be believed, the remaining amount of more than Rs 21 crore was transferred to the bank accounts of four individuals namely Chokhi Taflap, Manaklum Taflap, Chaikhulum Mai and Topinso Tega.
The local leader also told EastMojo that former advisor to chief minister Sotai Kri, Kunje Drai, Choliamso Kora and Jagiamso Retti who are mostly from Lohit district are the alleged masterminds behind the entire rip-off along with Chokhi, Manaklum, Chaikhulum and Topinso.
“There was deal made between these two groups in which it was decided that the there would be a 50:50 division of the total amount, so they must have distributed the remaining amount of Rs 21 core among themselves,” he alleged while adding that some of them have been witnessed buying SUVs, forklanes among other things soon after the compensation was paid.
When EastMojo contacted Choliamso Kora, he said termed the allegations baseless and said that the money was transferred directly to bank accounts of the beneficiaries and he had nothing to do with it.
“I instead started to get calls from a few people from Itanagar demanding money, however, when I did not earn a single penny how could I pay them,” Kora said.
Calls were also made to Kri, Drai and Retti, however, their statements could not be taken.
Interestingly, the name of the then Hayuliang ADC Sode Potom of allegedly being involved in the scam was also highlighted by the locals.
When contacted, Potom denied his participation and said that the allegations were false. On being asked on why the money was not transferred individually to the accounts of the actual beneficiaries, Potom while acknowledging that the land affected people did give a few individuals the power of attorney to represent them for the compensation matter said: “This must have been done because the compensation process involves a lot of follow ups right till the defence and ministry level.”
Anjaw deputy commissioner Dagbom Riba said that the BRO transferred the compensation amount in the ADC’s account when it should have actually been transferred into the DC’s account. “When I inquired on the same with the BRO commander, he told me that the ADC insisted on doing so,” said Riba.
“A deputy commissioner is also the land settlement officer of a district; however, there was no intimation given to me. The BRO did not follow the procedures properly,” Riba said.
Local MLA Dasanglu Pul said she was not fully aware of the situation. “All of this have taken place when I was out station for my swearing-in ceremony,” she said while demanding a free and fair investigation into the matter.
Eastern Arunachal MP Tapir Gao said, “The mafias are in hand in glove with the BRO, land records department and the district administration. I have already written a letter to the chief minister and chief secretary in this regard and asked them to initiate an investigation through SIC or SIT.”
“This is very shameful on the part of our people who do not seem to realise that they are playing with the nation’s security as the road when constructed will be used by our defence personnel. China has already reached every nook and corner of the Indo-Sino border and we are lacking behind due to such problems,” Gao said.
A group of unidentified miscreants followed this reporter till the Tezu Circuit House and also surrounded the establishment with their vehicles in a possible motive of intimidation
Meanwhile, following complaints on the matter a case has been registered at the Special Investigation Cell (SIC) of the State police.
SIC Superintendent of Police M Harshavardhan told EastMojo that they have already sent the details of the case to the chief vigilance officer. “Once we receive directions from the vigilance department, we will initiate action,” the SP said.
Following the investigation that EastMojo carried out in Anjaw and Lohit districts to file this story, a group of unidentified miscreants followed this reporter till the Tezu Circuit House and also surrounded the establishment with their vehicles in a possible motive of intimidation. A verbal complaint was lodged in front of the Lohit Superintendent of Police Dorjee W Thungon, who later provided security to the reporter to shift her belongings to a safer place.
Intimidating calls were also made to our sources who helped us in providing the required information.