Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Tiller past gets a new date - Excavations across state shed new light on farming

The Telegraph (Kolkata), May 31, 2016
Bhubaneswar, May 30: Archaeologists have unearthed artefacts from excavation sites across the state throwing light on the earliest possible farming culture in Odisha pushing the date back by 3,500 years.
The findings from the excavations at Radhangar in Jajpur, Suabarei near Pipili, Banga in Puri, Deltihuda in Cuttack and Budhigarh in Kalahandi over the past two years have led to the discovery of objects highlighting agricultural practices during the Chalcolithic age.
The Odisha Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies, Archaeological Survey of India, Pune's Deccan College, and a few state universities are taking part in the excavation.
Prior to the latest findings, prevalence of agricultural practices in the state was thought to have existed in the 3rd century BC when the ancient city of Sisupalgarh flourished.
The recent excavations at five places in Jajpur, Pipili, Puri, Cuttack and Kalahandi have led to the discovery of ceramic assemblage of black and red ware, ochre coloured painted wares, tools such as celts and beads, pottery samples, stone axe, polishers, bone points, bone needle, copper objects, and bone arrow heads.
"These findings throw light on the early start of agriculture in settlements in Odisha, the exploitation of natural resources, the housing pattern of the people and their livelihood options," said Sunil Patnaik, secretary of the Odisha Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies.
"A number of perforated pottery such as storage jars and crucibles are indicative of the Chalcolithic age. Pottery designs with back, red and ochre finish were found at the sites," said Patnaik.
Cord impressions and wavy and horizontal lines found on the earthenware are also evidence of the age.
"A large number of animal bones found show that they kept them both for domestication and hunting purposes. Dog seems to have been the favourite pet animal as is evident from a burial with animal bones and arranged miniature pots," Patnaik said.
The availability of copper fishing hook, fish bones and tortoise shells also indicate their fishing network, experts said.
"Their fishing network was not confined to rivers and ponds but also the sea. This is evident from the recovery of shark fish teeth of which one has a perforation for reuse as pendant," said expert from the ASI Jeevan Patnaik, who carried out excavation at the Suabarei site.
The early historical site of Budhigarh highlights urban growth, the beginning of city life and the trans-oceanic contact during ancient times.
"The antiquities found at these sites include beads of terracotta and semi-precious stones such banded agate, carnelian and crystal quartz. From the antiquities it is clear that they flourished as inland urban centres. The findings establish the link of the transition between rural economy and urbanisation or fortified settlement," Patnaik added.
Also, the excavated site of Radhanagar has brought to the fore square-shaped fortification. "This kind of arrangement is known as the ideal type as mentioned in the Arthashastra. This is the first time that this kind of fortification has been discovered. We are now working on discovering whether they originated from Odisha or from the Magadha kingdom," Patnaik said.
Experts also revealed that the findings at Suabarei provided a tentative picture of stratigraphy (study of rock layers) of Odisha from the prehistoric period to the early historic period in continuity.
"Earlier excavations painted a hazy picture where the Neolithic and Charcolithic culture were intrusive in nature thereby creating confusion. But, excavations here show a gap of around 500 years between the two phases thus eliminating the uncertainties," said Professor R.K. Mohanty, who teaches at Deccan College in Pune.
Other important findings include three human skeletons from the Banga site and skeletal remains of an adult and the pot burials of a child from Deltihuda.
"Excavation of human skeleton from near the houses proves that there could be a practice of burying the dead near the habitation," said K.K. Basa, professor of anthropology, Utkal University.
Researchers shared the findings during a two-day seminar conducted by the state culture department that began here today.
"The findings of the excavations will be published in a book for the public. The excavated sites will be turned into tourist spots as well," said culture minister Ashok Panda.

Non-functional cold storage since 11 years

Reported by Sri Debendra Bisi
Sambad, May 31, 2016

Thursday, May 26, 2016


The Pioneer (Bhubaneswar), May 25, 2016
Even as people in the entire Nuapada district and some parts of Kalahandi district are forced to continue to use fluoride water and suffer from various health hazards, the delay in execution of the proposed Rs 752.44-crore Mega PWS (Piped Water Supply) Projects, the tender process for which had been completed around six months ago, has only added to their woes.
The people had got heaved a sigh of relief after Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik asked the RD Department in April 2015 to initiate tender process for the RIDF project to be funded by the Nabard. The Government had decided to undertake this project after intervention of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).  
According to sources, following the Chief Minister’s approval a due procedure was adopted to select a final bidder and the same was completed in November 2015. The Technical Expert Committee selected Shapooji and Company Pvt Ltd, Mumbi as the final bidder finalizing the contract money at Rs 724.96 crore against the project estimate of Rs 752.44 crore.
The process had also witnessed intervention of the High Court as one of the three bidders, after failing to come in the qualified list, approached it. As per the direction of the HC, the Technical Committee too reexamined the representation of the petitioner firm, the IL and FS Transportation Network Ltd, Mumbai, and found the marks awarded to it was just and proper. And hence, the Shapooji and Company Pvt Ltd remained as the qualified final bidder to undertake the work.
As per the procedure, the Technical Committee sent the file mentioning name of the Shappji firm to Finance Department for obtaining approval of the Government in February. But the file now remains unmoved much to the worry of 9.56 lakh people of 1733 habitations in Nuapada district and 18 habitations in Kalahandi district.
Meanwhile, a revelation made by another source has stunned the social activists who have been fighting for long to get portable water for the fluoride affected people.
According to it, an Apex Committee led by Chief Secretary was formed to reexamine the tender process and take a final call on implementation of the much-awaited project.
When the tender process has been finalised and the same has been sent to Government for final approval, what was the need of forming the Apex Committee to examine. Whether it has been formed to expedite the process or halt it, many wanted to know.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Cabinet nod for rail infra projects worth Rs 10,736 cr

Businesstoday, May 25, 2016
Railway projects worth Rs 10,736 crore were cleared by the government on Wednesday for improving infrastructure in various states, including Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat that go to polls next year.
The projects, including three for doubling of existing rail lines and two for laying a third rail line on busy routes, were cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) at its meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"I am happy to say that the CCEA has approved projects worth Rs 10,736 crore for doubling and tripling (of railway lines). There are a total of five new projects, three doubling projects for 763 kms and two third line projects for 514 kms.
"The benefit of these projects obviously will go to several states but two important states will benefit immensely, one is Gujarat and the other is Uttar Pradesh," Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said at a press conference after the meeting.
Providing details of the projects, he said, in Gujarat the CCEA has given approval for doubling of Surendranagar-Rajkot project at an estimated cost of Rs 1,002.39 crore with expected completion cost of Rs 1,137.17 crore with 5 per cent escalation per annum.
The length of the railway line will be 116.17 kms. The completion period of the project will be four years.
"It is a major push to Gujarat's industrialisation ability," he said.
He said the doubling of this line will greatly ease the ever increasing freight traffic between Okha-Rajkot, Porbandar-Kanalus, Veraval-Rajkot and Maliya Maiyana - Navalakhi-Dahinsara-Wankaner sections.
In UP, he said the doubling of Roza-Sitapur Cantt-Burhwal broad gauge single line project has been approved at an estimated cost of Rs 1,295.42 crore with expected completion cost of Rs 1,486.46 crore with 5 per cent escalation per annum.
The length of the railway line will be 180.77 kms. The completion period of the project will be five years.
The doubling of this line between Burhwal junction and Roza junction will fulfill the demand of the increasing traffic leading to socio-economic development of the area.
Besides, there will be continuous double line track available from Gorakhpur to Delhi via Sitapur Cantonment and Moradabad.
Barabanki and Sitapur districts of UP would also be benefited through this project.
Prabhu said the CCEA also gave its nod for doubling of Pune-Miraj-Londa railway line in Maharashtra at an estimated cost of Rs 3,627.47 crore and expected completion cost of Rs 4,246.84 crore in five years keeping in view the 5 per cent escalation per annum.
The length of the railway line will be 467 kms.
Besides the travelling people, industries in and around Miraj-Londa section will have additional transport capacity to meet their requirements.
Doubling of this line will greatly ease the ever increasing freight traffic on the Pune-Miraj-Londa section thereby increasing the revenue of the Railways, a railway ministry statement said.
The Pune-Miraj section is non-electrified single line on diesel traction and it is oversaturated.
"The additional traffic running over and above 100 per cent of utilisation is proposed to be diverted on the proposed doubling. The doubling of the section would come as an advantage as it would strengthen the rail network necessary to operate more passenger trains with increased speed and better efficiency," it said.
Prabhu said the CCEA also granted approval for the Vizianagaram and Titlagarh third line project at an estimated cost of Rs 2,335.68 crore. The length of the railway line will be 264.6 kms. The completion period of the project will be five years.
The third line is an alternative route to the over-burdened existing line and this link will also open an alternative route to oversaturated Kharagpur Jharsuguda section Howrah-Mumbai Grand Trunk Route and Howrah-Chennai section main line of East Coast Railways.
Rayagada and Kalahandi districts of Odisha and Vizianagaram and Babbili districts of Andhra Pradesh will benefit from this project.
The section is oversaturated with present capacity utilisation of 106 per cent and there is a huge detention to rolling stock.
The Bina-Katni third line project under West Central Railway (WCR) was also approved at an estimated cost of Rs 2,478.23 crore and expected completion cost of Rs 2,917.06 crore in five years. The line will be 278.7 kms long.
Besides facilitating passenger travel, the thermal power plants in the area will get a third line for transportation.
It will also greatly ease the ever-increasing freight traffic between Bina-Katni section increasing the railways' earnings. Sagar, Damoh and Katni districts of Madhya Pradesh will benefit from this project, the ministry said.
The Bina-Katni is critical and busy section of WCR serving coal rakes for thermal power plants at Chhabra Gugur and Jhalawar in Rajasthan and paints, oils and lubricants (POL) traffic for Mahadevkhedi in Madhya Pradesh. At present, the capacity utilisation of the section is 136 per cent, the statement said.
Asked if the approved projects had been accounted for in the Rail Budget, Prabhu said, "Most of them are a mix, but some projects mentioned are with trans-budgetary support and some with extra-budgetary support."
The completion of these projects, he said, will be between three to five years but the time limits given are outer limits and the government will be able to complete the projects earlier.

2.2 million rupees cheating by giving fake employment

Reported by Sri Debendra Bisi
Sambad, May 22, 2016

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Curtains down on Greeshma Utsav

The New Indian Express (Bhubaneswar), May 24, 2016
BHAWANIPATNA: The two-day-long Greeshma Utsav concluded in Junagarh under Kalahandi district on Sunday.
The festival was organised jointly by Odisha Sahitya Akademi, Lalit Kala Akademi and Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi. While the Sahitya Akademi hosted a Kabi Sammelani, the Sangeet Natak Akademi organised cultural events on the two days. Besides Odissi, artistes showcase various folk dance forms including Kalahandi’s Sarerate dance, Singari, Madli and Ghumura also found a stage in the festival. The Lalit Kala Akademi hosted an art workshop for two days and the paintings and sculptures produced by 30 artists including 15 from Kalahandi were showcased on the concluding day. During inauguration, officials of the Tourism and Culture Departments informed that `two crore has been sanctioned to develop Tarini temple and Jaleswar temple complex in Bhawanipatna.

Friday, May 20, 2016

CM Naveen Patnaik requests setting up of locomotive overhauling workshop in Kalahandi

The New Indian Express (Bhubaneswar), May 20, 2016
BHUBANESWAR: The joint working group (JWG) comprising the Chief Secretary and General Manager, East Coast Railway (ECR) has recommended to set up an Electric Locomotive Periodic Overhaul (POH) workshop in Kalahandi district.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik informed this today to Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu in a letter.
The Chief Minister said the committee has deliberated on various possibilities and based on the actual demand and other economic considerations of Railways it has recommended for setting up of an
electric locomotive periodic overhaul workshop in Kalahandi district.
Stating that the workshop would require about 250 acres of land, Naveen assured the railway minister that the state government would provide the land free of cost for the greater benefit of the State.
The recommendation has been made mainly on account of the overall shortage of electric locomotive POH capacity in
Indian Railways, large electrification works being undertaken in the ECR, he said and added that there is no such workshop anywhere in ECR.
Naveen said the working group has also done a feasibility study based on current operations and concluded that there is an immediate need for a 60 locomotives per year capacity POH workshop. This would reduce the cost of having the current 344 electric locomotives of ECR being overhauled at far off places in Eastern, South Eastern and Central railways, he said.
The chief minister said, "With electrification of the entire Sambalpur Division, which incidentally serves the Kalahandi district, the demand for POH of electric locomotives can only go up".
Naveen requested the railway minister to consider the recommendation favourably and sanction this workshop for industrially backward KBK region at the earliest considering the expectations of the people of Odisha and sentiment of people of Kalahandi.
The joint working group was set up during the railway minister's visit to the state on April 16 in the backdrop of a series of agitation following the decision to shift the proposed railway wago  repair and maintenance factory from Narla in Kalahandi district.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Thirst of Kandhbori

Reported by Sri Debendra Bisi
Sambad, May 9, 2016

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Apex committee to recommend railways for alternative industry in Kalahandi

Times of India, May 9, 2016
BHUBANESWAR: A meeting of an apex committee took place at the state secretariat here on Monday to study the feasibility of a proposal for setting up of an alternative industry for Narla in Kalahandi district against the proposed railway wagon repair workshop which was allegedly shifted from the district to Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.

The apex committee comprised of chief secretary Aditya Prasad Padhi and East Coast Railway (ECoR) general manager Rajiv Vishnoi discussed thoroughly on the proposal. "After detailed study and consultation with different departments of the state government and district administration of Kalahandi, the committee will submit its report to Ministry of Railways on the proposal," official sources said.

Shifting of the proposed wagon repair workshop from Narla to Andhra Pradesh had created hue and cry in the state. Ruling party BJD and opposition congress had strongly opposed the move of the Railway Board by raising the issue in the assembly. Congress had staged Kalahandi bandh last month demanding set up of the project in the district.
Later railway minister Suresh Prabhu had met chief minister Naveen Patnaik here on April 16 and discussed with him about the controversy. He had told Naveen that the proposed factory was not in the pink book, an official register of railways with information on allocation of funds to different projects.

During the conversation, he had assured the chief minister that his ministry is planning a new project for Kalahandi. Then a high-level committee had been constituted to study the feasibility of the new industry in the district.

According to Prabhu's proposal, the committee was formed last month. The apex committee has already conducted two meetings to work on the issue.

Padhi said he and Vishnoi has discussed at length about the proposal. "We will send our report to the central government about the setting up of the alternative industry for Kalahandi," he added.

SC asks Kalahandi medical college management to deposit Rs 2 crore or face NBW

Times of India, May 9, 2016
 | TNN | 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


The Pioneer, May 3, 2016
The ‘New Education Policy-2016’ proposed by the Higher Education Department of Odisha has not done correct assessment while selecting/proposing new affiliated universities across State. To be particular, it has neglected the KBK region.
The draft proposal should have considered quality of the colleges during selection procedure. Colleges having dubious record in the past for malpractice are given priority than college like Government Autonomous College Bhawanipatna (GACB), which has always kept high standard of education practice.
This is well reflected from the fact that GACB was among the first 52 colleges in India to receive Potential Center of Excellence (PCE) by University Grant Commission (UGC), the first three colleges in Odisha to get PCE status by UGC and the first college in KBK region to get PCE recognition.
Among the first three PCE colleges of Odisha, other two colleges (GM College and Khallikote College) have already been made Unitary/Cluster Universities by the State Government.
Because of GACB’s good standard, the same Higher Education Department of Odisha had recommended in 2014-15 for upgrading GACB to a university under RUSHA scheme of Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India. Unfortunately, the GACB could not fulfill RUSHA requirements due to lack of sufficient number of lecturers and other infrastructure facilities for which State Government is largely responsible. Thus, present suggestion for affiliated universities by ignoring GACB contradicts earlier recommendation.
In addition, the proposal also contradicts recommendation made by earlier Higher Education Task Force headed by Prof Pradhan, which had recommended to upgrade GACB to an affiliated university for Kalahandi and Nuapda region in the name of South Western Odisha University. Recommendation of GACB to a university was even prior to conversion of GM College and Khallikote College to universities by the same Task Force.
In 2008, the Sambalpur University had also proposed a branch campus in Bhawanipatna and a UGC team had inspected the proposal, the fate of which is hanging.
The current education policy suggests affiliating universities in Jeypore, Balangir, Rourkela, Angul and Puri. That means the concentration of new universities will continue to be again within 100 km radius of Bhubaneswar.
Cuttack-Bhubaneswar-Khordha region has already multiple number of national and State institutions including IIT, NISER, IIIT, AIIMS, five State Government universities, three private universities etc, whereas Brahmapur has multiple numbers of State Government institutions and two State Universities. NIT at Rourkela and IIM in Sambalpur boost a number of national institutions in Sambalpur-Rourkela region. This region has three State Government universities. North Odisha has also two State universities, one in Baleswar and another in Baripada.
In comparison, the KBK region comprising 30 per cent of Odisha’s geography and 20 per cent of its population has only one Central University of Orissa (CUO) at Koraput. There is no State Government university for the affiliated colleges in the region due to political bias.
This region needs special consideration to have more national institutions and State universities, especially to develop as a higher education corridor.

(Dr Patra, who hails from Kalahandi, is a faculty member in the Chemistry Department of the American University of Beirut (AUB), Lebanon) 


The Pioneer, May 1, 2016
The red soil in the hills that surround the tiny village of Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district, Odisha, is full of bauxite — the source material for aluminium used in everything from aircraft to beer cans. Yet, mining in Niyamgiri hills has been scuppered due to concerns over the welfare of tribals residing there. But is it all that bad or is it media hype by those determined to hold the nation back? Kushan Mitravisits Lanjigarh to find out the other side of the Niyamgiri story
The transformative power of good education is something we all know about. However, living in large cities, one forgets just how a good school education can make a difference. The best way is to see it in action in a part of India where good schools were non-existent. The Dayanand Arya Vidyalaya (DAV) International School in Lanjigarh and its students are a prime example of the transformative power of education.
The 900-odd students in this school may not seem like much compared to the thousands of students in some large urban schools. But many of these students come from the surrounding villages of this impoverished town, and a large majority of them belong to scheduled tribes and scheduled castes. And for many of them, this is the first time a member of these families has been exposed to proper formal education. If indeed the task of any Government is to expose those previously left behind to proper education, this is where one experiences it first hand.
The problem is that the Naxals that operate in and around this area hate education, with schools being destroyed, and students — and not just in Odisha — brutally murdered. We will not name the students to protect their families from retribution from Naxals, but speaking to a few children, it is impressive to hear about their dreams and ambitions.
In a hospital close to the school, 150 patients come daily; 250 during the peak monsoon season. From hundreds of malaria deaths annually, which was the leading cause of mortality in an area where the average life expectancy was barely 50, now there are no malarial deaths.
But how did we reach here? How did we reach Lanjigarh? It is rather remarkable how the red dust and rock at one end of the Vedanta Resources facility in Lanjigarh emerge as a fine white powder a few hundred metres away. But this decade-old plant is far from running at its full capacity. Indeed, it is just running at a quarter of its commissioned amount.
The reason is not that the white powder produced by the plant, a substance called alumina, is not in demand. Despite the crash in commodity prices across the world, prices of the finished product that emerges from alumina — the shiny metal aluminium — has seen a recovery over the past few months. Additionally, in a growing economy like India, demand for aluminium has been steadily increasing.
Yet, the plant stutters. That is because the reason this huge refinery is placed in Lanjigarh — the middle of almost nowhere, six hours by road from either Visakhapatnam or Bhubaneswar, the largest cities closest to it — is home to some of the world’s highest quality bauxite. Bauxite, the mineral from which alumina is refined, is usually 40 per cent aluminium along with some iron, vandantium and titanium.
The Niyamgiri hills that rise a few hundred feet from the main entrance of the plant have some of the world’s best bauxite. Yet, thanks to a mix of evangelical NGOs supported by the Naxals and a misguided United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government, the mining project is stalled and the conveyor belts meant to bring in the bauxite lie rusting. And that is a pity, not only for the staff that works at the plant, but also for the villagers and tribals impacted by it.
Lanjigarh is also one of the Blocks in Kalahandi district of Odisha, which unfortunately became a byword for poverty, deprivation, and underdevelopment in India, and has struggled to shake that tag off. In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi famously visited the district to shed crocodile tears over starvation deaths which had forced mothers to sell their children so as to make some money to eat. And along with Rayagada and Koraput in south-western Odisha, this led to the rise of Naxalism in this part of India.
Kalahandi was one of the few districts in the mineral-rich Chota Nagpur Plateau to have never had a major factory until Vedanta Resources started work in 2006. The rich bauxite resources attracted Anil Agarwal, Chairman of Vedanta Resources, here. It also attracted evangelical organisations desperate to “harvest souls” as well as some environmental and humanitarian NGOs desperate to stop the factory.
The ostensible reason the factory was to be stopped was because it would “destroy” the Niyamgiri mountains, home to the Dongria Kondh tribe, a foraging hill tribe that still lives on slash-and-burn farming. The Dongria Kondh’s god, the Niyam Raja, lives in these hills, and the NGOs, some of them well-meaning, managed to convince the tribals that the home of the Raja would be destroyed by the “big, bad” Vedanta Resources.
A well-orchestrated campaign with protests in London, where Vedanta is listed, followed, and it caught the attention of the publicity-hungry Congress leadership, desperate to be seen as saviours of India. So despite the UPA Government giving environmental clearance to the plant, some 30 years after his father lamented the state of Indian development at Lanjigarh, Rahul Gandhi and his lackeys followed suit hoping to stitch up the tribal vote. But to little avail, as the Congress in Odisha — like in most of the rest of India — was wiped off the electoral map.
The massive attention and case that followed in the Supreme Court, convincing arguments were given for why Vedanta should not be allowed to mine bauxite. Incidentally, Vedanta does not own the mines but the Odisha State Mining Company does. Impassioned pleas were made towards the livelihood of the hill tribes. And the 12 villages that live on the hills were allowed to have a vote to decide the outcome of the plant. Trained by the NGOs and terrorised by the Naxals, the outcome was a given. Yet, visiting Lanjigarh one wonders whether Vedanta is so bad.
This is a part of India where despite the occasional political visit, the State has not really arrived. There is little sign of the Government. Opportunities are limited, and while the railway are in an impeccable state, that is because there are trains hauling coal and iron ore every half hour, with passenger trains few and far between.
One of the first things Vedanta did was to establish the DAV International School, with the DAV Foundation. The principal, Shukla Chakrovarty, came from Bhubaneswar to this backwater to establish a school with just three students. Over the years, the school has grown and now has an annual intake of 90 students. While plant employees’ children get admission, the lack of growth at the plant has meant that most of the annual intake is of children from the neighbouring towns and villages. These children are a great testament to the power of education.
One boy in Class 10 spoke about his ambition to join the Army. Another girl from Class 9 spoke about her dream to become an administrator, and another boy wanted to become a journalist. These are hopes and ambitions that these children have to travel the world and whose parents never even left the district, some who live in hovels without electricity.
“I feel that we have made a difference to the lives of these children in a way that few other schools can. I came here because I wanted a challenge, and I believe that these children will be my greatest legacy,” Chakrovarty says.
We are not naming the children for fear of them or their families being attacked by Naxals; the SP of Rayagada spoke of a college student who was murdered by the Naxals recently because he questioned them.
And it is the same story a few kilometres away in the hospital too. Lanjigarh was a malaria-infested zone. Today, the area — despite the inhospitable monsoons — has seen no malaria related death in three years. Yet, the villagers in the hills still see their kith and kin die as the Naxals prevent them from accessing the school or hospital.
Indeed, some of the Naxals and village leaders have chosen to sacrifice their own children to disease rather than to accept aid. Lives are being lost because the narrative of “Vedanta is evil” has to be maintained.
“Education and healthcare are the enemies of the Naxals. In their misguided quest to rid the world of social inequality, they need to realise that integration with the State will do more for these people than burning the provisions that we give the villagers”, says K Siva Subramani, the Superintendent of Police, Rayagada district, where a part of the Niyamgiri range falls.
Vedanta officials admit that the refinery, despite being the cleanest alumina refinery in the world and a zero-emission and zero-discharge facility, will pollute a small amount. However, the plant head, Bimalendu Senapati, says that they are constantly improving themselves. “We are now reprocessing the vanadium and selling it to sulphuric acid manufacturers. We reuse all our caustic liquid, we make bricks from the ash and are figuring out how to refine other materials from the ‘red mud’ waste, which includes titanium.”
Yet, the bauxite is not from the Niyamgiri mountains but from as far away as Gujarat and even Papua New Guinea. “Our costs are double of what we should incur if we had local bauxite,” says Senapati. “This might be the most advanced plant in the world but with the commodity price crash, we are making a massive loss.”
With an investment of Rs8,500 crore, this plant ought to be a shining example of India’s industrialisation, yet some parts of this massive refinery lie rusting away.
The plant, despite running at a quarter of its capacity, provides direct employment to over 2,000 people and also supports the local economy. The employed include 75 workers whose land was taken to build the plant and who live in a resettlement colony called Niyamgiri Vedanta Vihar.
Speaking to a roomful of these workers, many of them tribals from the plains, often relatives of the tribals in the hills admit that it hurt to leave their old villages. But now, earning an average of Rs25,000 per month, some of them have cars, refrigerators, and flat-screen televisions. “We have health insurance. I don’t need to worry about family members dying every time we get a fever. My children are studying in the DAV School and they will go to Delhi or Mumbai. I can operate machinery and use a computer now. My life has changed,” says Bhuma Harijan.
Others from the villages and surrounding towns like Muniguda, the closest railhead, talk of how the plant is giving opportunities to the local youths. Parimita, from the district headquarters of Bhawanipatna and a science graduate, talks of how the plant has given jobs to educated women from the area. “Earlier we all had to travel to South India for jobs. Who wants to move away from home for opportunities?” she says, adding that almost 80 per cent of the plant’s workforce are locals from surrounding districts.
“Earlier Kalahandi was famous for all the wrong reasons; this plant is a good reason to be proud of Kalahandi, but the world still thinks that it is evil because they have not witnessed how this plant has positively impacted our lives.”
And the local economy has also benefitted; youths previously unemployed and with little to look forward to are being trained in various skills at the Yuva Pragati Kendra. The managers at the facility are particularly proud of the 10 youths who recently acquired jobs at retail shops in Bhubaneswar.
In the small village of Lanjigarh, about a 10-minute drive from the plant, the Sakhi Self-Help Group has been helping local women with loans. Several run provision stores and do odd jobs like tailoring. The women realise “Bauxite nahin toh kuchh nahin”, and say that they have actually been in touch with the local legislators for bauxite.
Basanti Sain talks of the benefits that the plant has brought but is scared about what will happen if the plant goes away. “We had nothing 10 years ago; today we all have brick houses and can look forward to a better life for ourselves and our children.”
Indeed, plant officials talk of how the Odisha Government is assuring them of bauxite supplies. Employees and villagers alike want the plant to succeed, and talk of those scuppering the plant in negative tones, with Rahul Gandhi being a particular object of derision. “He talks of women empowerment; this plant has actually empowered women and he wants us to fail,” a local woman strongly points out.
Unsurprisingly, the Congress is almost non-existent in this part of Odisha. Plant officials also want the world to know that mining will not destroy the hills; indeed they feel that the Dongria Kondh tribe has to be brought into Indian society. They need to progress, they need education and healthcare. Yes, they should preserve their traditions, but how can one justify short life expectancies, how can one justify young people dying of malaria, and illiteracy in the 21st century? This is a story that needs to be told.sha