by Shabbir Mir
GILGIT: The government has withdrawn the free ferry facility that it had introduced for people affected by the landslide in Hunza and is now asking them to pay the fare set by traders, locals said on Thursday.
“We are being asked to pay for the trip from Hunza to Gulmit and back. But, if we refuse, we are banished from the boats,” said Mumtaz Ali, a resident of Hunza. He said that the withdrawal of the facility has left the residents of Hunza and Gojal feeling forgotten and neglected. “The land route [Karakoram Highway] is still blocked and we have no option but to go by boat,” he added.
In the wake of a landslide that struck Attabad early this year, a lake formed on the previously fast flowing Hunza River. The length of the lake has now gone beyond 23 kilometres upstream, submerging a large section of the Karakoram Highway. In view of the hardships being faced by the people in Hunza, the government had allowed private traders to operate boats across the lake with the government bearing the cost.
“We were unaware of this new development. Why did it happen so abruptly?” asked a resident of Gulmit, one of the five villages submerged by the lake. He said that the government had informed the people of Hunza that the free boat service would continue till the construction of the Karakoram Highway. Several attempts to contact officials in Hunza failed as their phones remained unattended.
Meanwhile the residents of Attabad have reminded the senior minister, Mohammad Jaffer, to honour his pledge and step down as he had failed to secure ‘sufficient’ compensation for the victims of the Attabad disaster despite the lapse of over two months.
In early July, hundreds of Attabad lake victims had called off their protest in Hunza after Mohammad Jaffer had assured them that he would use his influence over the government and get their compensation increased to the level of their satisfaction.
The government had offered Rs500,000 to each family that lost its land and home to the lake. The victims had however rejected the compensation terming the amount insignificant compared to losses incurred.
The families have now vowed to resume their protest soon after Eid.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 10th, 2010.