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A Poisoned Chalice!

Updated: October 29, 2011 11:04 am

Land acquisition and water: A roadblock to industrialization

Coercive measures to grab land might prove fatal in the run-up to panchayat elections.


Credibility gap develops between state government’s rhetoric and its actions. Though industrialisation and land acquisitions are synonymous with each other, now this is the right time to judge the forbearance of Naveen Patnaik administration whether government of the day is in a position to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut on land acquisition issue or move forward through peaceful means as everyone anticipates passionately what action on the ground of this government would be. Any action’s departure from peaceful means might put the present regime on a slippery slope and bring not only disrepute to the government but a snowball effect might emerge. Certainly, now a sense of deja vu grips over some part of state as public outcry on providing private land and Mahanadi water to numerous companies is gaining momentum.

There is an undercurrent of anger visible in some parts of the state on the land acquisition and use of water by the companies for setting-up of different plants in the state. Government finds itself in a cliffhanger as no extraordinary breakthrough is evident and how the bogie of industrialisation moves further satisfying both antagonists and protagonists is yet to be seen.

Naveen government’s grandeur of delusions of making Odisha a rich state in the country fizzles out in tides of time. Sporadic protests are seen over the use of agriculture land or private land for different projects in the state. It seems government has not set any yardstick on the land acquisition front as some companies are putting enormous pressure on government to grab maximum land for their expansion before they set up projects. It is alleged that livelihood options of the people in nearby project sites have been squeezed and state government instead of providing livelihood security to its people, keeps busy in snatching the precious land of villagers for the interest of the companies. Due to lack of availability of enough government land, government has no option but to grab the private land for the purpose. Upping the ante over the issues on the part of local people is justified in this scenario as the people lose their farming land for not getting enough compensation and a dark patch of cloud is hovering as their livelihood options being in a position of doldrums.

It is learnt that state has provided more than 20,000 acres of land to companies that want to invest in steel sector only. While one third of total distribution of land is government land, the rest is clubbed with private land. This being the reason that exasperates local villagers and persistence of such ambiguity over land acquisition is seen as a stumbling block to making Odisha a rich industrialised state. In recent times central government dwells upon in enforcing a new law regarding the land acquisition wherein government can take possession of land after taking the farmers or local people into confidence.

Investment in power sector faces an uphill task as most of the companies still find a Himalayan task on their way to possess a piece of land. And on its part the government has failed to employ local people. Some people from other states are being engaged and employability factor of nearby people puts a question mark as everyone maintains silence on this vital issue.

Except this, use of water from Hirakud reservoir or other tributaries could pose a serious threat to the farming activities. It is worth mentioning that water level in Hirakud depreciates as sand level increases. There is no specific planning on the part of government in conserving water resources. Necessity of water for drinking or agricultural purposes should become of paramount importance before government contemplates providing limited water to different projects. Use of water from Hirakud or any other tributaries on the part of different companies could pose a serious threat to the farming activities. Any attempt to provide water from the Mahanadi to companies such as POSCO, Essar and Indian Oil Corporation could be unfortunate and that may put the state in deep water crisis in future.

Apprehension is being raised on how government unilaterally signed MoUs with numerous companies to provide water from the Mahanadi without considering the demand of farming community; a terrible picture might come up with people’s unrest in the state. Those companies have signed MoUs with government in steel sector that need more than 6000 million cubic metre water. If government goes ahead with such plans, then farming community will certainly lose its trust in this government. Instead of relegating the interest of small or marginal farmers to the backburner, government could be in a better position if it devises a formula in which water can be conserved for their interest with keeping their livelihood option intact in view of people of Odisha being dependant on agriculture.

Meanwhile, people of Western Odisha have taken umbrage at a project as people ask the government as to how it signed an MoU without studying the project report in detail. Widespread resentment brews in three districts of Sambalpur; Boudh and Sonpur as the ghost of displacement haunts them. Power projects in Western Odisha are the vital ones in the run-up to the panchayat election next year.

By Shrikant Panda from Cuttack

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