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Odisha villagers fear eviction from port project

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It is going to be a case of double whammy for 70-year-old Durgapada Mohanty in this coastal village of Odisha’s Balasore district. Having lost nine acres of land to the Subarnarekha river, he is now all set to be hit twice as a private company intends to acquire his land for a proposed port project.

In his lifetime, Mr. Mohanty’s family has built 10 houses, which were devoured by Subarnarekha one after another. Left with no family-held land, he has shifted to a patch of government land.

In the same village, 35-year-old Sukumar Patra has constructed a shelter on eight decimal of government land whereas his family’s 2.26 acres of land could now be somewhere in the riverbed of Subarnarekha.

The government land parcel under the jurisdiction of Chaumukh village has turned out to be lifeline for villagers who were displaced by river Subarnarekha.

“A new threat has been looming large for some years now. Our addresses have already been erased by Subarnarekha. The government wants to alienate us further from the land we critically depend on for our existence and livelihood in the name of acquiring land for the port project at the Subarnareka river mouth,” said Mr. Mohanty.

The Subarnarekha Port Private Limited (SPPL) promoted by Chennai-based Creative Port Development Private Limited in which Tata Steel holds 51% stake proposes to develop the port with handling capacity of 25 million tonne per annum in phase I. An estimated ₹5000 crore would be spent for the port. The Odisha government had first executed the agreement for the proposed port in 2008.

The proposed site of 915 acres comprises mainly inter-tidal land. In addition to that, an area of 750 acres will be reclaimed for the port. A dedicated rail and road corridor will also be developed on an area of 1565.93 acres.

“The government claims that no private land will be acquired for the port project. There is no truth in the statement. When the common land is already used by needy villagers for years, where is the government land left to be acquired for the port,” wondered Shankar Pani, an environment lawyer.

Villagers are in no mood to part with the common land which is extremely fertile. “More than 2000 betel vines are located in our village. Betel leaves worth lakhs of rupees are sent to different parts of India and outside every day,” claimed Laxmikant Khatua, president of the Coastal Land Protection Committee.

Dry fish worth ₹10 lakh is exported from the village every month while the pocket is known as the vegetable basket of the region.

“We don’t know why the government is eyeing the fertile land whereas more than 4000 acres of barren land is available across the river. In the 1980s, a defence project was shelved following a huge protest from locals. Now, the State government is hell-bent on facilitating a private sector port at the cost of villagers’ livelihood,” said Subhas Chaudhary, a village elder.

Project proponents claim the port would generate 12,000 jobs but, the village provides jobs to 1000 people from other parts of Balasore and outside in betel vines every day, villagers said.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 12:16:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/odisha-villagers-fear-eviction-from-port-project/article30134506.ece

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