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Red tape denies relief for mining-affected villagers in Odisha

Local residents of the Salarapenth area in Keonjhar district are seen on the road protesting on October 16, 2021.   | Photo Credit: BISWARANJAN ROUT

Ghasinath Penthei and his fellow villager, Jaya, have been taking turns to stage a demonstration at the foothills of Gandhamardan Iron Ore Mines for past fortnight. Joining them are women of Salarapenth, a tiny remote village in Odisha’s Keonjhar district.

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Putting their livelihood at risk, the villagers have decided to give up daily wage work, and block traffic through the major road near the iron ore mine to demand compensation for damage caused due to the mines.

Polluted but ignored

The residents of Salarapenth are protesting against their exclusion from welfare programmes meant for villages affected by the Gandhamardan iron ore mines. Though Salarapenth is just two km from the iron ore mines, it comes under jurisdiction of Keonjhar’s Sadar block whereas the mines are situated in the neighbouring Banspal block. These bordering villagers have been thus been deprived of relief.

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A cooperative society — Gandhamardan Loading and Transporting Cooperative Society — was created to take care of villages situated around the mines. An amount is set aside for the society for every truck that rolls out with iron ore from the mines. According to local people, the cooperative society has recently started paying ₹5,000 per month for each family affected by the mining activities.

“We are directly affected by pollution caused by iron ore mining. The waste water flows down through our village and during summer, the dust pollution blankets the whole village. But we have been denied benefits just because we come from different administrative boundary,” said Mr. Penthei.

Residents of the Salarapenth area in Keonjhar district protesting near their hamlets on October 16, 2021, as they demand proper compensation from the OMC (Odisha Mining Corporation).

Residents of the Salarapenth area in Keonjhar district protesting near their hamlets on October 16, 2021, as they demand proper compensation from the OMC (Odisha Mining Corporation).   | Photo Credit: BISWARANJAN ROUT


Salarapenth villagers have tried to explain the situation to cooperative society office bearers and Keonjhar district administration. But, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Hopes crushed

“About decade and half ago, seven crusher companies set up their units in Salarapenth. Villagers were assured that they would get steady employment throughout the year, besides other indirect benefits. Villagers had sold all their land to these crusher units. After few years of operation, these units became nonfunctional due to a government order,” said Jaya Penthei.

He said, “the villagers now neither have a job, nor can they retrieve land from the crusher units.”

Another peculiar problem these villagers face is their caste identity. “We are from the Nahra community. Going by our social conditions and descriptions in gazetteers, we should be included in Scheduled Tribe list. Since we are very poor, our children cannot continue their studies beyond Class X. In Salarapenth, none of the residents has completed college studies,” Sudarshan Penthei, another villager.

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 6:30:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/red-tape-denies-relief-for-mining-affected-villagers-in-odisha/article37023221.ece

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