CPI-ML, Protests

CPI(ML)-New Democracy opposes Lower Suktel Dam

The CPI(ML)ND odisha provincial committee strongly condemns the brutal police repression and forcible construction of Lower Suktel dam in Bolangir district against the will of the local villagers. The large scale deployment of armed police in Lower Suktel agitation area and similar deployment in Govindpur area to suppress the common people agitating against the Posco project once again exposes the so called ‘peaceful development’ and ‘peaceful industrialization’ of Naveen Patnaik Govt and proves that the Govt. of Odisha wants development at gun point.

While the BJD Govt is making a hue and cry on the likely submergence of 10 villages in Malkanagiri Dist due to proposed Polavaram Dam, the same Govt is submerging 29 villages in Bolangir district by constructing the Lower Suktel dam by undermining the alternative proposal of the local people. Though the Govt. is declaring that the water of the proposed dam will be used for irrigation but seeing the earlier experience of different dams in Odisha, there is a strong suspicion among the people that it may cater the need of different industrial houses situated in nearby areas.

We also condemn the attitude of ruling class parties like BJP, BJD , Cong etc. for supporting the Govt’s latest offensive and indiscriminate arrest and lathi charge against the people of Lower Suktel area in the name of development.

We strongly demand immediate halt of the construction of the project and withdrawal of armed police from the area and to release all the people lodged in Bolangir jail.

Brief description on Lower Suktel and people’s agitation against the proposed dam:

Suktel is a tributary river of Mahanadi in Odisha, flowing in the districts of Bolangir & Sonepur. The state Govt. has been trying to build a dam named “Lower Suktel Irrigation Project (LSIP)” at G.S. Dunguripali. CWC (Central Water Commission) allotted a sum of Rs. 217.13 Crores at 1994 estimate for the same later revised to Rs. 1042 Crores in 2009. State Govt is said to have spent Rs. 300 Crores for land acquisition, of which more than 60 crores has been mis-appropriated as pointed out in the CAG Report and is under recovery process. The project is said to irrigate about 31000 hectares of land, whereas the FRL will submerge more than 4000 hectares of already existing multi-crop agricultural land, forest, best kendu (tendu) leaf production area, vegetable and paddy production area and self-reliant 30 villages of the drought prone dist.

The supporters of the project – mostly the demand coming from the Bolangir town. It is being told by the affected villages of submergence area that many of the powerful people of the town and outsiders to the region, rich man with money and muscle have purchased huge patches of land and have converted that to make profit from the compensation money. A few powerful and influential political leaders of the region have purchased hundreds of acres of land as “Benaami” (anonymous) downstream keeping in view of the future mineral processing of Iron Ore, Thermal Power Plant, Bauxite, Lead and many other valuable minerals, including gem stones.
The question arises here: an irrigation project, why is it being opposed?

Resisting villagers have given the alternate proposals – that instead of the said 30 meters tall dam, small height multiple barrages be done at multiple stages across the river. That will not submerge the fertile agricultural land, productive forest, won’t uproot people and villages, are less expensive and low maintenance in the long run. That will be more effective for irrigation, keeping drought in control of a much larger region than the big dam, and maintain the bio-diversity. Large dams not only cause big displacement, but they also create water deserts. The biggest example is Hirakud Dam in the state, where the loss incurred to the people and environment is enormous. The huge reservoir is a big water desert of the region.

Possible Falsification of Facts by the Construction Company & Govt.

In a fact finding journey to five villages, it was found that, the figures presented by the officials are misleading and full with lies. Some of the villages which the survey report states as partial submergence, checking on ground at those villages with GPS device, it was found to be under 8 meters of water during FRL, at the highest point at middle of the village. Also as with experience we have seen in Hirakud that the villages where there was never before submergence, flood of 2011 August, they were washed off, on the upper region of Hirakud Dam due to Back-water. So partial submergence is a myth during the monsoon.

Compensation issue

People in some villages have been paid up compensation for their land, house, trees etc. The maximum amount that has been paid for per acre of agricultural land is Rs. 55,000/- + Rs. 10,000. With this price, it is almost impossible to purchase equivalent land at elsewhere. The burning example is displaced people of Tikhali Dam near Nuapada/ Khariar. Only a handful of the displaced about 10% have been able to settle at a new place. Remaining 90% people have lost their culture, society, rights to common land, cattle grazing land, forest and other common resources of human civilization. The displaced people are looked upon in an inferior manner at the new place where they go. Some pro-displacement people argue that they should move to nearby towns and live happily; but while saying so, they forget that it is impossible to live up without a neighboring society. As said by the uprooted at gunpoint people of the Tikhali (Lower Indra) dam project – “where ever we go, people kick us out. They say that we are detached flying leaves.” In a recent bizarre incident, the villagers did not even let the dead body of a displaced person being burnt at their mortuary. The dead body had to be brought back to a distance of 13 kilometers for the last rites. Many villagers still have not received any compensation whereas the dam construction is over by 70%. Those who were displaced are preferring to even come back, and rebuild their houses at the old place. Since past 5 years over a hundred school going children have been deprived of their basic right to education.

 Displacement by large scale water logging causes extinction – of culture, people, species, societies, forests, insects, birds, animals, reptiles, civilizations and brings in destruction, oppression, desertification, diseases, and deaths. Smaller is better, bigger is worse.

People’s agitation

The people of 29 villages which are likely to be submerged by the proposed dam are struggling against the dam for the last 12 years under the banner of Lower Sukhtel Budi Anchal Sangram Parishad. The village people including women and children are resisting the construction work which has started for the last two weeks under heavy police deployment. At present there are 17 activists and common people are lodged in the Bolangir jail for opposing the dam work.