For two years (2012 and 2013) continuously, the villagers of Kanakwal village near the Guru Gobind Singh Refinery in Bathinda’s Talwandi Sabo constituency boycotted the Panchayat polls demanding a concrete solution to the air pollution problem they were facing because of the refinery. However, in the recently concluded Punjab elections, the village recorded 88.9% votes for the first time as people came out to excercise their franchise for ‘change’. “This year’s voter turnout broke all previous records. Since majority of the vote was against anti-incumbency we all came out to vote,” said a resident of the village.
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Bhakar Singh Nambardar. He claimed that the vote was divided between AAP and Congress with the former having an upper edge. Sharing his views on this year’s voting pattern, Nambardar said, “We have a total of 1,290 voters out of which 1,148 voted. This is a record. Our village has never voted more than a 1,000 votes.”
It needs to be mentioned that in April 2013, the Punjab government had decided in principle to relocate the entire village, however, it is still in papers while yet another election has passed. The Indian Express team which visited the village, also got a feel of the bad quality of air. “After boycotting the sarpanch elections, we took part in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and Talwandi Sabo bypoll in August 2015. CM Parkash Singh Badal himself had visited this village and even Union Minister Harsimrat Badal came here. Both had promised to relocate the village and hence we supported the ruling alliance in both the elections. But this time, SAD candidate Jeet Mohinder Sidhu didn’t visit our village even once. He didn’t have the courage to come here as he would have to face tough questions from the villagers on the 2015 bypoll promises,” said 72-year-old Gurtej Singh, a villager of Kanakwal, who said that air pollution has now become a part of their lives. While Jeet Mohinder remained silent on the issue of relocation, AAP’s Baljinder Kaur said,” Pollution and employment issues will be taken care once AAP comes to power. I live in Jaga Ram Teerath village few kms away from Kanakwal and I know their problem.” Congress candidate Khushbaaz Jatana, however, seemed more vocal. “I will get the gates of refinery locked, if problem of villagers will not be resolved I will get it done within 4 days after Congress forms the government,” he said.
Veer Davinder Singh, former market committee chairman of Rampura Phull and a resident of this village said,”Administration did repeated meetings with the villagers and everytime we said that we wanted to move out. However, they gave too many options due to which a few villagers asked for money in place of land. Dalit households asked for houses only while few others wanted agricultural land. A year back, the SDM of TalwandiSabo made a report that only 33% of villagers wanted to shift. Hence, this project has been kept in cold storage and we are still suffering,” he said.