Displaced people of Titilagarh-Muribahal area left in lurch

January 3, 2012 at 7:36 pm 1 comment

Following report is from The Pioneer: 

For thousands of villagers in Titilagarh-Muribahal area of Balangir district, life is horrible. Ten years have elapsed since the project-affected people (PAPs) under the Titilagarh Irrigation Project were asked to leave the place, but no step was taken to rehabilitate them.

The land cost in the area is skyrocketing. It has been five times of the actual cost per acre at Rs 43,000 for low land and `27,000 for high land paid to the displaced families. Not only are the people of the totally submerged Sakuspada, Mahulapada, Bileikani and Pitapara, among nine villages, living in makeshift houses, but some of them have been reduced to wage labourers. The two major demands of the affected people such as declaring Bankel as a fully submerged village and providing compensation to 127 landless families of the area have only fallen into the deaf ears of the authorities.

Meanwhile, the project which was initially envisaged to create irrigation facilities in drought prone area and provide drinking water to the people in Titilagarh town is yet to fulfill the primary objectives.

Chatura Sahoo (45), the only earning member of his five-member family, is an agricultural labourer. He belongs to the Bankel village and an active member of Kankadajore Budi Anchala Bikash Parishada (KBABP), the organisation which has been spearheading a movement for appropriate rehabilitation of the land oustees.

When asked why he was participating in the anti-project stir, he says: “Will the Government ensure six months’ assured job for me? I was getting it from my landlord, who was giving me Rs 30 per day and a share of paddy crop every year. What is the cost of my leaving this place? Who will be responsible for restoring food and livelihood security for me and my family members?”

As of now, the Government has fixed and distributed compensation for 204 families of Mahulapada, a hamlet of Bankel village under Bankel gram panchayat and Pithapara under Malisira gram panchayat. The most appalling concern is that the Government is yet to identify locations for rehabilitating these project oustees, says Bansidhara Behera, a social worker at Titilagarh.

According to a study by Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) between 1951 and 1995, in Odisha at least 5,46,794 people were displaced because of the construction of irrigation and mining projects and for setting up industries. Of these, 65 per cent of them had not been rehabilitated till 1995. Hirakud dam was completed in 1964 but till today a large number of people have not been rehabilitated or even paid the due compensation.

Jagadish Pradhan, social scientist and president of Sahabhagi Vikash Abhiyan, said, “During the British tenure, the Government usurped natural resources and productive assets that had been owned by the tribal and common people in the name of development and because of the colonial development model, a handful of people favoured by the colonial ruler became rich while the majority was impoverished. The worst sufferers were the tribal and forest dwellers”.

There were many tribal revolts in the 19th and 20th century. To control the unrest, the Government had formulated a few special Acts and provisions to woo the tribals.

Pradhan adds, “It was hoped that after Independence the process would be reversed and the new Government will give justice to the tribals and deprived sections of society.” While people of Kankadajore have been struggling to restore their livelihood and demanding declarations of their villages as fully submerged, people in the proposed lower Suktel dam sites are still not allowing the land acquisition team to enter their villages and lands.

These two movements in the drought prone Bolangir district were allegedly being suppressed by the district administration because they are not complying with the Government’s eviction policy. Though many letters and memorandums have been written, many rallies and demonstrations have been staged, the Government is turning a blind eye to the long pending demands. Rather the protesters have faced the wrath of the police and administration and have often been jailed for no fault of theirs, said Khuturam Sunani, an activist associated with these movements.

Quoting a Central Ground Water Board’s study, Bisikeshan Jani, president of KBABP said, “If the rampant use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides was not checked, the vast ground water potential, the only dependable source of water, would become polluted and make it unsuitable for human consumptions. This happens largely in major and medium irrigation command areas, noticeable in western and southern Odisha districts. That is why, the villagers are demanding the declaration of the village as completely submerged and are seeking proper rehabilitation of people”.

The rehabilitation advisory committee for this project, chaired by the district collector, decided not to declare Bankel as a fully submerged village.

According to the State resettlement and rehabilitation rule, a village must suffer a loss of at least 75 per cent of agriculture land due to a project to be treated as fully submerged, but Bankel is suffering a loss of only 48 per cent of its agricultural land. The villagers of Bankel said that out of 1,284.37 acres of cultivable land of their village, about 692.12 acres have been submerged, and out of the remaining 592.25 acres, about 400 acres have been water logged, following the construction of the dam. While the project report claims the villages are situated 300 metres away from the danger level, a recent study says that these villages are coming under the purview of danger being only 50-100 metres away from the proposed dam site.

Trilochan Punzi, who has been working with displaced people of Bolangir, said, “In our country many irrigation projects or flood control projects have been taken up more to address the needs of the contractors and technocrats than to solve the problems of the ordinary people. The Kankadajore Irrigation Project is no exception.”

The Titilagarh medium irrigation project was started in 1994 under the accelerated irrigation benefit programme of the Central Government with an initial estimated cost of Rs 26.7 crore, which has been escalated now to Rs 37.21 crore. The project lies across two nullas named Kankadajore and Jamunajore, which are tributaries of River Tel, a major right tributary of river Mahanadi.

KBABP president Jani explained about 95 per cent of the villagers belong to scheduled caste, scheduled tribe and other backward castes, and a majority of them are agricultural labourers. Taking advantage of their illiteracy, ignorance and simplicity, the nexus of the technocrats, contractors and politicians has initiated the irrigation project which is more interested in the drinking water needs of the people of Titilagarh for which they have ignored the interest of the tribal people. People of the affected villages also claim that this project was started with the main objective of providing drinking water for the sub-divisional township of Titilagarh, which has a population of about 35,000.

The ground water table around Titilagarh is very high and in many places one can find an artesian well. Even to get subsurface water one needs to dig just about eight or ten feet and can get plenty of potable water. This could be the cheapest and most dependable source of drinking water for the people of Titilagarh. The perennial and second largest river of Odisha, Tel flows just eight km from this township. The water that flows in this river even during the summer months can provide drinking water to the entire population of Odisha, not to speak of the tiny population of Titilagarh town. Notwithstanding these facts, against the requirement of about 2,000,000 litres of water daily, the town was being provided about 1,100,000 litres daily, said executive engineer of public health.

He further said at present, in summer, tanks and wells have gone dry and the water supply project for the town worth `12 crore is yet to materialise.

Of late, experts have expressed shock over the relevance and utility of these big projects, which are in turn bringing in disaster to natural resources. It is said that one-third of the district was earlier under green forest cover, but the latest satellite mapping shows that this has since halved (Government reports claim that 1,106 square km is forest cover of the district’s total area of 6,569 square km).

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Entry filed under: Agriculture, Agriculture and Irrigation, Balangir, Region watch.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Jennifer  |  January 26, 2012 at 12:24 am

    The World Bank estimates that forcible “development-induced displacement and resettlement” now affects 10 million people per year. According to the World Bank an estimated 33 million people have been displaced by development projects such as dams, urban development and irrigation canals in India alone.

    India is well ahead in this respect. A country with as many as over 3600 large dams within its belt can never be the exceptional case regarding displacement. The number of development induced displacement is higher than the conflict induced displacement in India. According to Bogumil Terminski an estimated more than 10 million people have been displaced by development each year.

    Athough the exact number of development-induced displaced people (DIDPs) is difficult to know, estimates are that in the last decade 90–100 million people have been displaced by urban, irrigation and power projects alone, with the number of people displaced by urban development becoming greater than those displaced by large infrastructure projects (such as dams). DIDPs outnumber refugees, with the added problem that their plight is often more concealed.

    This is what experts have termed “development-induced displacement.” According to Michael Cernea, a World Bank analyst, the causes of development-induced displacement include water supply (dams, reservoirs, irrigation); urban infrastructure; transportation (roads, highways, canals); energy (mining, power plants, oil exploration and extraction, pipelines); agricultural expansion; parks and forest reserves; and population redistribution schemes.

    Reply

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