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Kalahandi: Cursed with Industries...!!!

"Kalahandi has got many declarations and promises. The land couldn’t see any change although 1000 crores of rupees have been poured into the State of Orissa in its name. Looking at the development during last years, former Agriculture Minister Chaturanan Mishra once questioned about where the money was spent and in whose pocket this huge money found its ultimate destination leaving Kalahandi as it is?."

Basudev Mahapatra : June 3, 2007

Kalahandi - the word itself brings in mind a state of drought, starvation death leding to incidents like Child Selling and such other frustrating features that have attracted PM Rajiv Gandhi and his wife Sonia - currently UPA Chairman to Kalahandi. Kalahandi has heard many declarations and promises. The land couldn’t see any change although 1000 crores of rupees have been poured into the State of Orissa in its name. Looking at the development during last years, former Agriculture Minister Chaturanan Mishra had once raised a question about how the money were spent and where (in whose pocket) this huge money found their ultimate destination leaving Kalahandi as it is?

After long years of negligence by the administration and leadership, Kalahandi has been chosen by Naveen Pattnaik led Orissa Government as the safest ground for development game. The Sterlite Group is allotted with the Niyamgiri Hill range in Lanjigarh to start its Vedanta Alumina Refinery. The other corporate player BHP Billiton has also set its eyes on Kalahandi for a 1.5 MT alumina plant.

Niyamgiri hill range is home to Jarene community, a tribe with lots of similarities with the Dongria Kondhs. The community is one of the most distinctive primitive tribes living in 90 villages scattered across the hill range since many generations. These sons of the soil are now under tremendous pressure to vacate their homeland and all community cultural elements connected to their lifestyle. The only option open to them is to shift to the economy type industrial colonies. So, instead of being cheerful with the development initiatives lately taken by the government, these tribal folks living as a part of the serene natural surrounding are now aggrieved.

At such a point when Orissa government should adopt a sympathetic approach prefers to have a reactive stand towards the tribal agitators. As a practice, State police has always been harassing the tribal people who oppose anti-people industrialization on their land. Many are arrested in false accusation; police and followers of ruling political parties have beaten up many tribal agitators on many occasions to safe guard the interests of Sterlite.

Kalahandi district, undivided, is very well known as the hot pot of Orissa where atmospheric temperature crosses 50 Degree Celsius during usual summer. Social activists and environmentalists claim large-scale deforestation to be the major factor behind this. Further deforestation in the name of industrialization will, no doubt, lead Kalahandi to further burning, ecological devastation and death of people due to high atmospheric temperature and heat wave.

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Illegal deforestation by Sterlite for its Vedanta Alumina project has drawn attention of everyone including the Supreme Court of India that has expressed grave concern over such activities. But, ironically, Orissa government is least bothered about it.

Excited to set the Plant that would cause environmental disaster, Orissa Government is still overlooking the agricultural potential of Kalahandi and Nuapada (the new District after division of Kalahandi) districts, which would bring true development for people.

As ground water is available 4-5 feet below the surface and the plain is full of black cotton soil, farmers can be motivated to go for horticulture and alternate crop farming for more benefit at low investment. However, some social activists are doing a lot in this regard. Use of organic fertilizers like cow-dung and compost in farming is becoming popular in these districts after sincere efforts by Jagdish Pradhan, who is heading SVA or Sahabhagi Vikash Aviyan. As the crops grown with organic manures only have more nutritional value and a greater export potential, government and non-government agencies should promote this.

Frequent intervention by the NGOs has mobilized many farmers to opt for onion cultivation instead of usual paddy cultivation to fetch more profit. Involvement of farmers in onion cultivation and other cash crop farming like pulses, ground nut and vegetables is growing gradually which has minimized migration of people in many villages. “More than 400 people used to migrate from our village earlier. Now most of us are into vegetable and onion farming during the Ravi season. We are making a profit of 10,000 rupees in three months by investing 300 rupees only. So what is the need to migrate to distant places in search of jobs?” says Ravi Nag, an onion cultivator of Kotamal Village.

Instead of refineries by profit hankering MNCs, large number of agro-based industries should be planned in these districts to enable the farmer and the local youth earn a better livelihood. To facilitate agriculture and horticulture, extension of irrigation facilities across the plains of these districts should be the major focus of various government programmes.

If peoples’ development is the goal, large-scale mining and metallurgical plants can hardly serve as the effective means. The government, leaders and representatives at the grass-root level should work for people and come up with plans to provide employment opportunities to all. Instead of industries leading to large-sale displacement, Agriculture and local resource-based industries would be the best preference in this regard.

 

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