Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thoughts on Nuakhai 2011

Sindhol Shock to Nuakhai !

Ranjan K Panda

As the western districts of Odisha gear up to celebrate their biggest festival Nuakhai, the government of Odisha has chosen this as the best time to give them a devastative gift called ‘Sindhol Hydro Electric Project’.  Ruined by climate change induced continuous drought – that is leading to a famine like condition - while the people are already reeling under severe pain and farmers are increasingly losing faith in agriculture, instead of boosting their morale through enhanced ensured irrigation coverage and other needed support, the government is engaged to displace more farmers and submerge thousands of acres of agricultural land in the name of power generation.

In its pursuit for indiscriminate industrialization the government has virtually thrown the farmers and the natural resources including land, forests and water into the open for cheap exploitation.  Just monitoring the current week would be an eye opening exercise as to how the government blindly promotes industries in the state and gives a damn to the farmers. 

This week, even as more confirmed reports of drought resulting in huge crop loss in several districts came up, the government was still showing its old and time tested thick-chinned response  of tackling the situation in the usual ‘mode of laggard and neglect’.  It keeps on ‘looking into the matter’ and ‘reports’.  At least twelve farmers have ended their lives this Kharif so far and there is no committee formed, no declarations made and nothing that can be compared to the tempo of forming a ‘House Committee’ on the Sindhol Project.  We are still waiting for the report of the Commission that was set up last year after many farmers died due to crop failure and other related problems! 

Irrigation is the most sought after ‘dream’ for farmers in the areas where the three power plants of the Sindhol Project have been proposed but it is made to remain a dream forever as the govt. prefers to go in for a ‘power’ project for the powerful people of the state.

This is also the week when we have come across some ‘true faces’ of our patriotism to industries.  Recent revelation through RTI applications has found that most of the industries are drawing water from different sources ‘illegally’.  121 out of the 239 industries, for which information could be available, are committing this crime and there is no action by the state against them.  In fact, the real figure would be much more and industries are virtually having a free pass to exploit our water resources.

Another example of our government’s blind love for industries came to the light this week when it informed to the High Court that 42 industries have defaulted 1034.05 crore rupees of electricity duty and the power distribution companies have defaulted another 297.50 crore rupees of tariff.  While these big looteras are out in the open without any punishment, the government has been pushing for an increased tariff from domestic consumers including farmers. 

It is this week when the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) caught the Orissa government on the wrong foot on land acquisition for industries and land management process. It has pointed out that in case of both acquisition of private land and leasing of government land, fixation of market rates tend to benefit the buyer at the cost of land owners.  It’s just common sense that most of the times land is acquired from farmers and other rural population for big companies and other projects. 

At this moment, while we are giving final touches to our Nuakhai preparations, thousands of farmers are protesting, in different parts of the state, against forceful land acquisition for industries and other so called development projects which benefit the industries and the rich classes of the society. 

The farmers are already facing the wrath of climate change which is manifesting through erratic and less rainfall, increasing temperature, land degradation, pest attack, and drought; so on and so forth.  The out-of-world passion for industrialization in the state has only multiplied these woes.  The design seems to be perfect to make farmers out-of-place. 

Nuakhai, as we have been warning for the last half a decade, is shortly going to be ‘History’.  Climate change is already making us eat fire as temperature soars to 50 – 51 degrees wrecking further havoc on our crop production.  Thus, we have also been warning that we may soon rename our festival as ‘Niakhai’ (eating fire)! 
If the atrocious, draconian and abusive practices continue to be followed to promote mining, industrialization and power generation projects in the state at the cost of farming, our apprehensions would turn reality sooner than we had expected.  Earlier, we warned that Nuakhai would be a history by 2050.  We may be forced to pre-pone this projection if Sindhol like projects see the light of the day!  

Amid all the hopelessness however we still have the spirit and fervour alive in us and each year we prepare to celebrate our this most important festival.  Thankfully, we still have some new rice being produced.  This will continue till the Lords have not mastered the perfect design to kill farming.  So, even while the killer designs keep acquiring acumen and before our self-acclaimed masters succeed in their conspiracy to make it a history,  let’s seize the opportunity - yet again - to celebrate Nuakhai, our Festival of New Harvest!

Wish You All a Happy Nuakhai 2011 !

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