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Joda-Barbil: Orissa's Mining Hub changing into a Death Trap
"The villagers of Joda – Barbil come up with allegations that they have lost their minimum daily needs for sustenance. It is indeed surprising that since the last two decades their protests are peaceful and non-violent, but unheard by the district and state administration."
HNF Bureau : June 29, 2007
Mushrooming growth of mega and mini Steel plants as well as sponge iron plants much to the pathos and distress of the local inhabitants of the plant sites has been a glaring fact as the mining companies and entrepreneurs have made, virtually, no effort in the direction of infrastructure and peripheral development so far. Rather, because of rampant illegal mining operations and establishment of mineral-based industries, many villages around the project sites are almost cut-off from modern civilization in order to make themselves safe zones for the miners and transporters who always want to skip the attention of government authorities.
It is worth mentioning that natives of different project sites marked across the state of Orissa are forced to accept industrialisation as the key to Orissa’s development, as it has been portrayed by the premium class of the society planning inside closed AC Chambers for the development of the deprived. People who are supposed to be affected by different projects, are most justifiably aggrieved and have turned violent in many places as a reaction to dismiss their legitimate right over the forests, land and water. But in case of the people of Joda – Barbil in Keonjhar district, the scenario is altogether different.
The villagers, who claim that they have lost all sources of livelihood for industrialisation and mining, are protesting against the mining companies operating in Joda Barbil like Rashmi Metallic, Taurion Steels, Balaji Plant and Deepak Steel & Power etc. with the allegation that the companies are not doing the welfare works as promised during their inception. It is indeed surprising that since last two decades their protests are peaceful and non-violent, but unheard by the administration.
If the administration continues to have a deaf ear towards the allegations and demands of the villagers, the peaceful protest may turn into a violent upsurge whose magnitude would surpass all previous incidents and the aggrieved people would turn hostile.
In close proximity of Barbil there exist 7 – 10 villages. As alleged by the villagers, "the aforesaid companies are grabbing agricultural lands, cremation grounds, grazing lands, village roads, village forests, reserve forests and even government lands for siding activities and construction of private railway lines. There has been large deforestation and pollution due to such activities by the companies otherwise promoted by the administration."
In this context the obvious question that comes is – how the private companies managed to go for huge deforestation? Have they obtained the environment clearance from the Union Ministry of Forest & Environment? Why the concerned Forest Officer (D.F.O.) preferred to be a mute spectator to all these on-goings and, to everybody’s astonishment, how the department couldn't notice overnight disappearance of the trees in the forest?
While collecting the report we found logs of wood lying near the private puncture Railway Lines as well as deep dug holes which are yet to be filled up. Rapid deforestation and pollution caused by mining and siding activities have put many rare variety of wildlife species at the edge of extinction. We were fortunate to see beside the punctured railway line a rare variety of chameleon which was once in abundant in this area.
But unfortunately no body is concerned over all such misdeeds and its impact on public life and the wildlife.
It is more surprising that most of the agricultural lands used for the private railway tracks belong to the tribal community. How these agricultural Lands, cremation grounds, village forest areas & grazing fields are being converted and used for setting railway tracks made illegally in the name of industrial development? It radiates the smell of a multi-crore rupees scam wherein high powered railway officials of Chakradharpur Division, Some powerful hands working in and out for union Railway ministry, Mining company owners, officials of Forest department, Industry department, district and Tehsil administration would be involved.
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“We have submitted an application to the Collector and D.M. Keonjhar on 02/12/2006 explaining about such activities undertaken by the companies and appealed for a probe as to how the tehsildar allowed these companies go ahead with their illegal activities and how the Tehsildar changed the category (Kisam) of the land for otherwise use. As the Collector and his aids remained silent, we again submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister Mr. Naveen Patnaik on 16/12/2006 by hand. We complained about how the forest & environment Department that comes under the ministry being headed by the C.M. himself has become the safest ground for high level and large scale corruption. The C.M. assured that he would look into the case and direct appropriate orders to the Collector and other concerned officials at the earliest possible. But, unfortunately, there has been no action although it’s already six months since we brought everything to the CM’s notice. The companies’ activities are going on in full steam as before. Our complaint to the Chairman of the Pollution Control Board, Bhubaneswar in December 2006 faced the same fate as everybody prefers a mute status regarding the mining companies", alleges Praful Munda villager of Dalki.
A lady named Sumati said, 'for this railway line and siding works the companies are excavating our land in the near vicinity of our village pond. They transport the iron ore and soil from the banks of our village pond which has not only damaged our pond but also has polluted the water to a dangerous extent. The companies promised to provide us with safe & clean drinking water, medicines, also construct roads and repair our ponds within a fortnight. But these have remained hollow and unfulfilled promises till date. The companies have even excavated the land where the foundation stone for a Lower Primary Tribal School was laid by the Padmashri Tulasi Munda. It would be hardly possible now to construct the school as the land has become a very expansive and deep hole.
The plight of the villagers doubles when their children, smeared with smoke, dust and tiny particles of iron ore on their faces and body, are suffering from variety ailments including pneumoconiosis diseases. Although the much hyped child labour prohibition act is in force, these mining companies and contractors are engaging child workers in numbers in dangerous mining works.
Matching the local environment officials, the District Labor Officer also have blind eyes about these on-goings for reasons best known to them. Sisir Hembram – a local intellectual said, “when the railway line meant for transportation of ores is existing as operative under the controll of government agency OMDC, why the mining companies are laying private railway lines and sidings? This will not only create environmental pollution and deforestation, but also 30,000 to 40,000 local villagers will lose their direct and indirect employment provided now by SAIL, OMC & OMDC. Once these poor villagers start starving and comes to road for, possibly, begging, the company officials and their pet mafias would come forward to push them into domestic or otherwise slavery.” Preferring anonymity, a highly placed OMDC official said, their office has repeatedly informed the state forest and environment and Revenue Departments about such activities and appealed for disallowing the companies for such unscrupulous activities. But sad to say, there is no action till date. Once the railways lines turn operative, huge volume of ores would go out of the state without the notice of the government and tax collectors causing a loss of crores of rupees". The greatest shock of the whole episode would be when one comes to know that most of these companies don’t have mines owned by them or leased to them. So the department of steel & Mines should act promptly to stop such activities which would promote trafficking of Iron Ore and save its face from an alleged involvement of its officials in this game of corruption.
Villagers complained, "Our school going children and daily life are not at all safe because of the horrid road and traffic conditions due to routine siding and related mining activities. Similarly it is common that the poor villagers get suffocated, patients die unattended to and there is at least 3 to 4 accidental deaths per month. On the other hand, Keonjhar District churns maximum revenue for the state. More, surprisingly 60 to 80 crores of rupees is being collected by the District Peripheral Development Department each year which is directly under the Collector & DM. But you can well imagine the pace of development in this locality by seeing our condition. You will see very few numbers of people living beyond 55 years of age. If this continues, then in the not too distant future the denizens of Joda Barbil will have a drastically squeezed life span. The saddest part of our story is that when we are absolutely panic-stricken our leaders and politicians have joined their hands with the mafia and companies.”
After having carefully noticed the conditions of people living in and around Joda Barbil, we arrive at the conclusion that the local poor and marginalized tribals are still in bondage by the companies and mining mafia who, in our opinion, are worse than the British East-India Company officials. Even the leaders of these tribals who, unfortunately, happen to be non-tribal people are all using the suffering tribals for their own benefit. As the whispering on the local and the district administrative corridors goes, some noted leaders are instigating the tribals to get a contract of filling 50 – 100 rags of ores. Virtually nobody work for the welfare of these tribal communities suffering from the cumulative impact of pollution, corruption and administrative apathy. When everybody blames the government and its non-accountable officials, it’s the government that blames them of not being very excited with the concept of development at the cost of the livelihood and basic rights over their inheritance. The only inheritance government is unable to defy is their inheritance of death. Now the question comes, should these people break into hostile or join the maoist movement that is gradually expanding its base in the district or die to be a faithful believer of the great Indian Democracy?