Sea-struck villagers left in the lurch at Satabhaya

Satyasundar Barik
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Promises of land rights, relocation or package remain just that for over 3,000 residents

living in fear:A view of Satabhaya village along Odisha coast, which is facing sea ingression.
living in fear:A view of Satabhaya village along Odisha coast, which is facing sea ingression.

Here life and shelter are temporary, whereas promises are permanent. Meet around 3,500 residents of Satabhaya village, few feet away from menacingly advancing Bay of Bengal, in Odisha’s Kendrapara district.

Despite desperate pleas of villagers to relocate them to a safer place, successive governments have kept showering sea-struck people with promises during past two decades.

Interestingly, all the time villagers, who live under constant threat of sea ingression, are given renewed hopes just before elections. Three months ago, Kendrapara district administration has promised them to give land rights in an area identified for their rehabilitation. But nothing is moving for them.

“Prior to 1970, Bay of Bengal was six km away from our village. The sea gobbled up around five villages when a massive cyclone struck the State in 1971. Then 1,200 persons reportedly died. Since then, the sea has been moving in the direction of our village, we are left with no option to keep shifting toward mainland,” said Sudarshan Rout, whose family has built three shelters to keep a safe distance from the sea.

Mr. Rout, president of Satabhaya Rehabilitation Committee, narrated, “We cannot not live a permanent life here. Nor could we buy household articles or choose a future for our kids. The civilization has progressed considerably as far as education, health and communication are concerned, but our lives continue to lag behind.”

The first proposal for relocating these villagers to safer place was mooted during the Chief Ministership of Biju Patnaik in 1992. However, it soon got entangled in environmental litigations.

“Just prior to election in 2004, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik laid foundation for a rehabilitation colony at Magarakanda. But the proposal did not materialise. The 2009 election saw political leadership resorting to same tactic. In 2008, the State government announced a package us. However, it was put in cold storage after the election,” he alleged, adding that the process moved only villagers vigorously pursued the matter. For sea-struck villagers, a total 132 acres were identified at Bagapatia village in the mainland. The administration is facing difficulties in acquiring 48 acres, which is private land. “For the government, acquiring 48 acres of land is not a big ask. It only needs the mindset to understand our tragedy,” said Nilamani Das, another resident of Satabhaya.

What the government has made sure that it has not de-linked people from welfare schemes in Satabhaya that would lose its identity in course of time.

To reach Satabhaya village, one has to cross a creek in a country boat. A small mistake could make you a feed of crocodiles, which are abundant in the creek. The problem does not end here. A newcomer has to walk an 8-km-long narrow earthen road, which becomes unusable during monsoon.



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