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Friday, October 28, 2011

No More Dams Says Balangir, Bargarh and Subarnapur !

Courtesy:-Dailypioneer written by :- Sudarshan Chhotray

Caught between the dual targets of massive industrialisation and agricultural expansion through extending irrigation coverage to the farmlands, the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD Government has become the real target of people.

Despite its tall claim of covering 35 per cent of cultivable land under assured irrigation facilities, the ground realities are something different. Policy analysts have found only 25 per cent of the land in the State to be under irrigation. With 11 major rivers, 12 river basins, seven big dams, 10 agro-climatic zones, four geo- climatic regions, 480-km long coastline and average rainfall of 1, 500mm, the State is still a less developed agricultural region. Climate change has affected monsoon and uncertainty of rainfall has made lives of the farmers miserable.

Many attributed drought, food insecurity, starvation deaths, migration, and suicide of farmers and above all marginalisation to inadequate irrigation facility. The diversion of water for industrial houses meant for irrigation has raised many eyebrows. Similarly, the Government’s failure in flood management also has been criticized by political parties and experts. An affidavit filed by the Water Resources Department in the Odisha High Court on August 30 last has confirmed 18 industrial houses are lifting water from four such dams, including Hirakud. This and other related allegations have indeed fuelled many controversies over distribution of water. That’s the reason people feel all the projects have been designed and directed towards facilitating industrial needs than the needs of the common people.

Just a month back, drought had engulfed almost fifty per cent of the State and the news of farmers’ suicide was much in the news headlines. People of Western Odisha were up in arms against a hydro-power project proposed near Sindhol village in Subarnapur district. Though this plant was planned ostensibly to augment the energy needs of the State, in reality people in Western Odisha put up a brave front against the project, which forced it to put off the project for the time being. For them it was a conspiracy to facilitate another Hirakud like big dam for which they are suffering since 1950.

Aung Irrigation project: People of Paikmal area under Padampur Sub Division in Bargarh district are up against a dam project which has posed a grave threat to their life and livelihood. They are claiming their ancestral home, cultivable land and locally available natural resources would be lost if the project is undertaken. Not only these, it would also harm their existing social relationship, age- old tradition and practice.

The proposed dam at Pujharipalli at a distance of 15 km from Padampur, would irrigate about 30,000 hectares of cultivable land of both Bargarh and Balangir districts, which are known as drought prone areas. The project, which was started at the initial cost estimate of Rs 304.66 crore as per the 1999 Consumer Price Index, has now been escalated to Rs 500 crore. The project was sanctioned by Central Water Commission on September 20, 2000 and the environmental clearance was issued on December 6, 2007. The project has the components of a 7480 meter length earthen dam near Pujarharipalli with irrigation potential of 50 km in downstream. Total and full storage in the dam will affect 5100 hectares of area including 167 hectares of Chhattisgarh State.

“As our area is rich in natural resources and people are rich in agriculture despite erratic monsoon and scanty rainfall with less irrigation facility, we have gained self sufficiency in agriculture and a common farmer is getting more yield than expected. Similar is the situation for landless farmers those who never feel they are landless. Rather, they adopt shared cultivation system which brings more benefit for them and they have nothing to worry of forced migration,” says Amrit Lal Sahoo, a retired Revenue Inspector of Saeikela village.

For Jaganath Pradhan of Samalpuri village it is a do-or-die struggle, as he is losing at least Rs 4 lakh per annum from his 15 acre of cultivable land . Even Government agencies collect seeds from him. Jagannath manages to run his 14-member family lavishly without any other income source. For him loosing land for a proposed project will cost him dearly. He is all set for self immolation if the project is undertaken forcibly. The Government has planned the project without proper verification of local resources, alleged members of Pujharipalli Dam Pratirodh Committee, the organisation which has been spearheading the movement against the proposed project. Due to stiff resistance from affected villagers, the first public hearing was turned a battle field.

As things stand today, where the people of Paikamal area have been continuing their protest demonstrations against the construction of the proposed Aung Dam, local politicians are leaving no stone unturned to pacify people’s growing dissent. The affected village believes the decision for construction of a dam at Pujharipalli was political one as former Odisha Chief Minister Biju Painaik had already laid foundation stone for Aung Irrigation Project at Chirroli, said Pujharipalli Dam Partirodh committee secretary Netrananda Behera.

Interestingly, foundation stone laying for Pujharipalli Dam site was conducted during the Congress regime by former Chief Minister J B Patnaik during the 90s. Since then, people of the region have been protesting against the construction of the dam starting from the massive rally at Padampur in the year 1989. Then came the boycott of panchayat elections en-masse in the year 2002 in all the four gram panchayats namely Alkmaar, Sareipalli, Lokharkota and Jagadalpur. Not a single vote was cast in all the 32 affected villages spread over the four panchayats, says Bhandari Marei of Chardhapalli village. Of late, the committee has formed village level struggle committees in all the 32 affected villages to give a brave front in resisting Government’s possible attempt to construct the dam. According to the agitating villages of Lakhmara revealed the dam will not only cause harm to four high schools including a tribal residential high school, a junior college and a number of primary schools, it would also cause harm to a number of area and endangered animals, birds, some medicinal plants, profitable tress, fruit and crop varieties.

Significantly, the calculation made by forty years’ old Bharat Bag of Sareikela Village tells a different story. According to him he gets 30 bags of paddy from an acre of agriculture land which will cost around Rs 11, 250.00. Besides these, he earns from oilseeds and cereals. Bharat says it would be painful for any farmer in sacrificing such prosperous areas for the sake of a so called development project which will bring only devastation. The most shocking effect of the proposed dam is the continuing existence of the prolonged traumatic situations undergone by the people of the region who during the last couple of decades couldn’t make any large investments in housing and other social and economical engagements, argues Bhakta Bariahha of Chardhapalli village.

Suktel Irrigation Project: Chabbilal Gadatia is dejected as he found that he had nothing to do, but hand over his two acres of agriculture land to Government for the construction of the proposed Lower Suktel Dam. Chabbilal, with his five-member family has been earning his livelihood depending upon his two acres of fertile land. Chabbilal along with his fellow villagers of Kainthapalli under Loisingha block of Balangir district are up in arms against the Government which is all set to oust them from their land for the proposed dam.

Kainthapalli is among 29 villages which would be affected by the proposed dam. According to the 1996 survey, at least 15,380 people of 4160 families spread over 26 villages of Balangir district will be displaced. Out of them, 1222 families are tribal, 575 are Scheduled Caste and remaining 2363 belong to OBC. The dam has been initiated to irrigate more than 31,830 hectares of agriculture land spread over 189 villages of poverty stricken and drought prone Balangir and Subarnapur districts. Under the Central Government’s Long Team Action Plan for the drought-prone KBK region, the dam has been approved by the Planning Commission in 1999, with an estimated cost of Rs 217.13 crore in 1996, which is now escalated to the tune of Rs 1,041.81 crore. But due to strong resistance and boycott of the displaced persons, land survey and acquisition process at the proposed dam site of Magurabeda, situated 22 km away from Balangir town had been halted. Latest Government report says land acquisition in 23 villages has been almost completed and process is yet to start in remaining six villages. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik while reviewing the progress on August 30 last this year has instructed the authorities to speed up the construction work as soon as possible. After completion, the project will irrigate 29,850 hectares of agriculture land in Balangir and 1,980 hectares in Subarnapur district. Two canals will be constructed in right and left side of the reservoir. “Since the last seven years we have been living under uncertain future and passing through psychological trauma, following the declaration of the dam,” the locals lamented.

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