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Nuapada villagers fight for fair compensation as dam water rises

Villagers are seen on the flooded road in Lower Indra irrigation project area in Nuapada district in Odisha on September 16, 2021.   | Photo Credit: BISWARANJAN ROUT

In this remote village of Odisha’s Nuapada district, Puina Harijan worries over his household. Despite a hectic daily routine, he cannot keep his eyes off the reservoir level in the Lower Indra Irrigation Project (LIIP). If the level goes up by even 2 feet, rising above the present 261 ft, the homes of 500 Konabira residents will likely to go under water.

But Mr. Harijan and his fellow villagers have refused to leave their land, even though accessing Konabira now requires them to wade through knee-deep water. Their fear of inundation is surpassed by the determination to win the rights due to them with self-respect, undaunted by adversities.

“Our land was acquired at a throwaway price. A paltry amount was paid as compensation to make way for the LIIP. During the long, two-decade-old struggle, villagers have only received assurances, while compensation has remained elusive,” said Mr. Harijan.

The LIIP, conceptualised in 2001 and dedicated to the nation by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in March 2021, continues to have unresolved rehabilitation and resettlement issues, pushing hundreds of villagers into an uncertain future. Inhabitants of Konabira, and a few other villages such as Sonbahali and Budhachhapar, have been demanding the payment of outstanding dues to compensate for their displacement from their lands.

“Prior to the inauguration of the project by the Chief Minister in March this year, villagers were given the fresh hope of ₹1 lakh by way of compensation and a concrete house under the Biju Pucca Ghar Yojana. Six months have passed since but they have not received anything,” said Tukaram Sagaria, joint secretary of the Lower Indra Jan Sachetana Manch, which is spearheading the movement for a better deal for the project affected people.

 

The LIIP is widely considered to have one of the worst rehabilitation and resettlement schemes ever executed in a dam project in the new millennium, with affected people running from pillar to post seeking outstanding dues, year after year.

“All land laws — the Land Acquisition Act, 1894; the Odisha Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy, 2006; the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, have been implemented. But people displaced by this project have been treated differently. Marginal farmers have been forced to knock on the doors of courts to get outstanding dues,” Mr. Sagaria maintained.

“What we are demanding is a uniform payment structure. Who on the earth can purchase land at ₹12,000 per acre after the year 2000? The villagers are absolutely right to demand higher compensation for the loss of land, livelihood and home,” he pointed out.

With the objective of creating irrigation potential of 29,900 ha in the Nuapada and Balangir districts, the LIIP was conceptualised in 2001 at an estimated cost of ₹211 crore. Initially, only six villages were to be fully submerged, and 13 partially submerged. The project was revised in 2003 at an escalated cost of ₹521 crore, with ten villages identified to fall inside the reservoir and 21 other villages to be partly submerged. By 2018, the cost of the project stood in excess of ₹1,750 crore. But gullible villagers were allegedly duped when compensation was disbursed. Land Acquisition Officers, bankers, journalists and middlemen, now booked in cases, siphoned off crores of rupees by creating fake beneficiaries for the project.

Now, the Lower Indra Jan Sachetana Manch says the reservoir is being filled gradually and villagers are being forced to flee. “Last year, the reservoir level was 258 ft. The government has raised the level to 262 ft this year. We have heard that they will stop filling the reservoir at 265 ft, which will spell doom for all land oustees. The government must consider the genuine demands of the people and not force them to flee from their homeland,” Mr. Sagaria said.

The heavy downpour that lashed the region on September 14 unnerved Konabira residents, but did not dampen their resolve to continue their fight for fair compensation. “We would rather opt for a watery grave than live in uncertainty for the rest of our lives,” Mr. Harijan said.


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Printable version | Oct 27, 2021 1:57:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/nuapada-villagers-fight-for-fair-compensation-as-dam-water-rises/article36497919.ece

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