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Odisha set to lose another nature’s paradise to port construction

The river mouth situated close to the Chaumukh village in Balasore district. Photo Credit-The Blink

By-Sonali Singh

Balasore, Dec 25: Odisha is said to have been gifted with immense natural beauty. The long coastline, mountains, greenery and cultural heritage reckons the ancestry of the eastern state. However, with the rapid industrialization many of the natural resources and natural ecosystems are slowing been destructed to pave way for the industries.

While natural resources including forests, mountains and villagers in many districts like Keonjhar, Angul, Talcher and Jharsuguda have been sacrificed for mining and other industrial works, much other natural landscape has also come under the radar. Such activities often spark a debate among the environmentalists on at what cost the development through these industries is planning to usher in?

The river mouth situated close to the Chaumukh village in Balasore district. Photo Credit-The Blink

Subarnarekha is a perfect example on how a picturesque piece of land at Chamukh village in the Balasore district is going to be gifted by the government for port activities. One unique virtue about this village is its prime location midway to the river mouth.

The village has been guarded at two sides from the Subarnarekha River and one the other side it has been exposed to the Bay of Bengal. The port developer’s eyes on the area thinking this could be the best place to come up with a port. However the District Administration as well as the Port Developers is reiterating adequate rehabilitation, tension has gripped among the villagers about their likely outcome after the port is constructed.

As per media reports, the port developer- Subarnarekha Port Trust is all set to start working for the construction of the port from January 2020. Foundation works for the same like felling of trees along the village to pave way for a wider road and construction of the main road connecting the village and the National Highway have already been going on in full swing.

The periphery of the village surrounded by Subarnarekha River. Photo Credit-The Blink

The village is a large habitation comprising farmers, beetle vine  growers, fishermen, women working on fish processing, production of dry fishing and others. Many fishermen venture deeper into the sea with their boats to catch their prize catch at regular intervals.

Many of them now believe that their livelihood would be at stake with the port construction. “Many of the farmers and villagers here are fumed with the project. We are totally against this project. Many of us are dependent on agriculture along the river coast. Farmers are all set to lose their farming land and it is sure that with the passage of time villagers will be displayed for their expansion of port activities and allied industrial works,” said Subhash Choudhury, a sexagenarian villager from Choumukh.

Many also claim that a decade back the Gram Sabha resolution was taken by force by the District Administration by imposing Section 144. “It was a forged and forced exercise. Section 144 was imposed in our village to get the forced consent of the villagers. People were beaten and when brought from hospital to sign documents,” said Sraban Kumar, a resident of the village.

The women folks from the fishermen families engaged in fish processing. Photo Credit-The Blink

Another resident and a fishermen showed the long stretch of the rocky platform where family members of fishermen dry their fish to sell the dried fish in the market. The fishermen community who live closely at the river bank are now baffled.

“We are tensed as we totally depend on the river and sea for our survival. If a port comes and we lose our rights to fishing in these area, we will be hit badly economically. We will not only our livelihood but our houses constructed close to the port side will also be threatened,” said a fishermen requesting anonymity.

Many claim that after the port comes into effect, regular movement of trucks carrying industrial wastes and products will add to the pollution levels of the village which is otherwise existing in a natural ecosystem. Many believe that the village will meet the fate of Talcher and Angul and other industrial areas which report bad roads, higher air and water pollution due to industrialization.

However the port authorities and District Collector claim that adequate compensation will be paid to the aggrieved villagers and their woes will be addressed sympathetically as per some media reports.

It will be worth watching from January this year on how the villagers react when the plant comes up and also how the district administration and port developer deals with the environmental issues. The port construction is one of the ambitious plan of the government to construction more minor ports in the state to given an impetus to the transport of cargo from the water ways.

The Union Ministry of Shipping on the other hand is also working hard to on their ambitious plan of Sagarmala Project where it has planned to transport surplus materials from the state like coal, steel and other raw materials to all the southern states situation along the Indian Coastline besides reaching to the western parts of the country through the coastline upto Gujarat.

In some of the media interactions, Union Shipping Minister has claimed that transportation of cargo from sea way is far cheaper than as transported from the roadways or railways.

(Sonali Singh is a news intern with The Blink)

Twin gang-rapes again haunt Odisha, one stoned to death


Blink News Network

Bhubaneswar, Dec 25: Two different cases of gang-rapes in the state have now come to the forth from two different districts. It is also reported that in one of the cases, the victim was stoned to death after raping the girl.

The two incidents have been reported from Bargarh and Kandhamal districts. This comes after the recent national uproar in the country from Hyderabad gang rape case. In the first case coming under the Paikamal Police Station Limits under the Bargarh district the rape victim was said to be stoned to death as during the search a mutilated body of the victim was found the family and villagers

It is said the the deceased who happens to be a tribal went to relief herself but failed to return after a long time. The family of the deceased soon reached the police station and filed a missing complaint with the cops. When the kin and some of the villagers from the area started to search her, a mutilated body of the girl was found close to another village in a semi-nude condition. Prima facie it looked like a case of stoning someone to death after rape.

The local police soon swung into action and nabbed three suspects based on suspicion. The Bargarh SP Padmini Sahoo and others are now said to have started the investigation. The team also went to the crime site and took the assistance of sniffer dogs to get clues in the case.

Nevertheless, in Kandhamal district a minor was gang-raped allegedly by threee men. The rape survivor later reported to the police. The minor has named two boys and another minor who did the crime. Police is said to have apprehended the accused involved in this case.

In this case the girl was gang-raped by taking the rape survivor into a secluded area. The complainant claimed that after attending school she was returning home. She later took left from the trio. It is said as the accused  hailed from the village, she joined them to reach home earlier but got nabbed into the hands of the rape accused.

According to the data furnished by the State government before the Legislative Assembly recently the state reported a total of 1,865 rape cases including sexual assault on 956 minor girls, 7,706 molestation incidents and 337 dowry death cases during the first nine months of 2019. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Odisha ranks second in the country when it comes to crime rates.

Diwali or Christmas, these migrant workers try to make celebrations vibrant


Blink News Network

Bhubaneswar, Dec 24: Religious festivals always remain special to the people who love to celebrate them. Several denizens enjoy flaunting their festival-specific products in front of their relatives and on social media. Several migrant workers settled in the state capital on their side also try to make the cultural festivals in Bhubaneswar more vibrant from their contributions.

Bhubaneswar has been home to several such migrants from north Indian states who love to contribute to the happiness index of the urban people in the smart city. Either the important squares of the city or roadsides, these migrants often come up with attractive items to woo the people here and make their celebrations grand.

With the arrival of Christmas season many of these migrants, majority of them claimed to have migrated from Rajasthan are now seen selling items to magnify the Christmas celebrations. From the fancy colourful red hats to clothes to other decorative items, these vendors have made the city streets colourful now.

“Whenever we hear about any upcoming festival we chip in. We try to bring the best products at affordable rates to attract the people towards our stalls. With this festival target sales the flow of money keeps on going which helps us in surviving in these times when the common commodities are becoming expensive,” said Rakesh Singh, a vendor selling Christmas hats near Nayapalli.

Many of these migrant traders claim that often they sell car shades, cushions and other items at important squares of the city and survive besides ensuring a good life for their kids. Many of these people have also started mastering the local language to strike a chord with the locals.

Bhubaneswar gets an anthem, goes viral after launch


Blink News Network

Bhubaneswar, Dec 24: The smart city of Bhubaneswar has now got an anthem. For lakhs of people who live in the state capital, been here or for the Odias living outside the state and country it has come as a boon. This digital viral video is seen trying to connect all the lovers of the historical city.

The eye-catching, contemporary video release named as “Hey Bhubaneswar-The Bhubaneswar Anthem” was launched on Youtube on December 21,2019 and within three days it has started creating ripples. For thousands of Odias living outside, this video has become a content to flaunt to showcase the other parts of the country who know little about the state capital or have misconceive it a lesser developed city akin to other Indian cities.

This viral video has been made by the Chagala Boys who are known for their quality and viral content made under the banner of Bhubaneswar Komedians. This time the young duo-Akash Baghar and Samar Pratap Nayak.

This time they made the product under the banner of the digital platform of Orissa POST Live, the digital venture of English daily-Orissa POST. The duo had recently started making a series of videos for the channel under the name of ‘Bula Buli’ where they had been making videos of the past about the famous traffic squares of Bhubaneswar. The anthem song was the culmination of their 10-episode series for the project.

The video as of December 24, 2019 noon had received more than 29000 views. It has been making rounds on social sites like Twitter and Facebook. This has been one of their most viral contents after they made sarcastic videos on Bomikhal bridge, national media ignorance on Fani mayhem and others.

In the current video, the duo with the excellent works of the director, cinematographer, camera persons and video editors have shown the finest ways to describe Bhubaneswar. After ropping in drone cameras and giving it a contemporary look to attract the young generation, the team has written a catchy English song clubbed with famous Odia words to make it universal and enriching it with Odia pride.

They have tried to show the youths of the city perceive the state capital which has become a blend of modernity and historical ancestry. The video shows fun, lives of youths on city streets, their famous hangout spots and glimpses of Chilika lake and Infocity.

The team claims that it took almost a month for the all shoots and other works to produce this 4:51 minutes of work. With the intensity of its spread, the numbers are set to surge in the days to come.

Watch the full video here-

Delayed Indian monsoon, Cyclone Fani ‘high impact’ events of 2019



  • The delayed onset and withdrawal of Indian monsoon and cyclone Fani were among the “high impact” events of 2019, the World Meteorological Organisation provisional statement on the State of the Global Climate said.
  • The strong monsoon also impacted coal production and consumption in the country, where emissions are projected to rise by 1.8 percent in 2019, considerably lower than in 2018, according to the Global Carbon Budget (GCB) report.
  • If we do not take urgent climate action now, then we are heading for a temperature increase of more than three degrees Celsius by the end of the century, with ever more harmful impacts on human wellbeing, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas warned.
  • As climate change hits human health, through the spread of vector-borne diseases and exposure to extreme weather events, a lack of funding is stymying countries from taking action, the World Health Organisation said.

The year 2019 concludes a decade of exceptional global heat and high-impact weather, the World Meteorological Organisation said in a statement, underscoring the delayed onset and withdrawal of Indian monsoon and devastating cyclone Fani as the year’s “high impact” events.

The strong monsoon-maximum in 25 years-also impacted coal production and consumption in the country, where emissions are projected to rise by 1.8 percent in 2019, considerably lower than in 2018, according to the Global Carbon Budget (GCB) report.

India’s “record” hydropower performance fuelled by a strong monsoon was one of the factors driving up global carbon emissions marginally in 2019 despite a drop in the use of coal, the GCB report published by the Global Carbon Project (GCP) said.

The reports were launched at the 25th iteration of the United Nation’s Conference of Parties (COP 25) underway in Madrid, Spain where country representatives convened to work on the mechanics setting the Paris Agreement in motion in 2020. The reports emphasise “climate action now” and bat for a “sharp decline in carbon dioxide emissions.”

“Through most of 2019 it was looking as if coal use would grow globally, but weaker than expected economic performance in China and India, and a record hydropower year in India – caused by a strong monsoon – quickly changed the prospects for growth in coal use,” said Robbie Andrew, a senior researcher at the Norway-based CICERO Centre for International Climate Research, part of the GCP. Researchers said heavier rainfall led to both flooded coal mines and high hydropower generation. In addition, the Indian economy has slowed rapidly during the year.

“Carbon dioxide emissions must decline sharply if the world is to meet the ‘well below two degrees Celsius’ mark set out in the Paris Agreement, and every year with growing emissions makes that target even more difficult to reach,” said Andrew.

India, in its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), promised to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP – the volume of emissions per unit of GDP – by 33-35 percent by 2030 and achieve 40 percent of its cumulative electric power from renewable power. It has agreed to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

Deadline for meeting emission standards has been relaxed by five years for India’s thermal power plants, one of the major contributors to air pollution. Photo by Ashish.prajapati90/Wikimedia Commons.

For now, record atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have messed up the average global temperature in 2019.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit a record level of 407.8 parts per million in 2018 and continued to rise in 2019. Carbon dioxide lasts in the atmosphere for centuries and the ocean for even longer, thus locking in climate change.

2019 is on course to be the second or third warmest year on record, it said, adding average temperatures for the five-year (2015-2019) and ten-year (2010-2019) periods are almost certain to be the highest on record, WMO said in a provisional statement on the State of the Global Climate.

“If we do not take urgent climate action now, then we are heading for a temperature increase of more than three degrees Celsius by the end of the century, with ever more harmful impacts on human wellbeing,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “We are nowhere near on track to meet the Paris Agreement target,” he warned.

On a day-to-day basis, the impacts of climate change play out through extreme and “abnormal” weather. And, once again in 2019, weather and climate-related risks hit hard, observed Taalas.

Heatwaves and floods, which used to be “once in a century” events are becoming more regular occurrences. “Countries ranging from the Bahamas to Japan to Mozambique suffered the effect of devastating tropical cyclones. Wildfires swept through the Arctic and Australia,” said Taalas.

Strong monsoon and killer cyclones

In 2019 the onset and withdrawal of the Indian monsoon were delayed, causing a large rainfall deficit in June but an excess of precipitation in the following months.

“Over 1000 lives were reported to have been lost in various flooding episodes in India during the season. Monsoonal flooding also affected parts of southern China in June, with 83 deaths and over US$2.5 billion in economic losses reported,” the WMO statement said.

Data analysed by Mongabay-India revealed that in 2019 monsoon season, at least 1,351 people have already died in India due to floods, heavy rainfall and landslides compared to over 1,550 people in 2018.

[Read more: Over 1,300 people died in July-August this year due to floods and heavy rainfall]

Regular flooding occurred during the Indian summer monsoon season, particularly in western and northern India and neighbouring countries, WMO said. Overall pan-India rainfall for the summer monsoon season (June-September) was 10 percent above the 1961-2010 average, the first above-average year since 2013 and the wettest since 1994, despite a below-average June.

The late Indian southwest monsoon withdrawal is linked to the positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole, characterised by cooler than average sea-surface temperatures in the eastern Indian Ocean and warmer than average sea-surface temperatures in the west. The negative phase has the opposite pattern. The resulting change in the gradient of sea-surface temperature across the ocean basin affects the weather of the surrounding continents.

The director-general of the India Meteorological Department had stated to Mongabay-India that the seasonal reliability of the monsoons has been changing in the past few years. What used to be a steady combination of rains and brightness is giving way to long periods of inadequate rainfall followed by intense rain; in short – drought and floods.

In parallel to the disturbances on land, it was a “particularly extreme cyclone” season in the North Indian Ocean, the WMO report stated, highlighting the slightly above average global tropical cyclone activity in 2019 (till November 17).

Three cyclones reached maximum sustained winds of 100 knots or more, the first known instance in a single season, and the accumulated cyclone energy for the season was the highest on record by a large margin.

Extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani was the most significant cyclone to affect India since 2013, making landfall in the east of the country on the Odisha coast on May 3 with sustained winds of 100 knots, having earlier peaked at 135 knots in the Bay of Bengal.

Madrid is hosting the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 25) to the UNFCCC. Photo by Kartik Chandramouli/Mongabay.

There was significant damage in coastal areas and loss of life, although extensive evacuations in affected coastal areas greatly reduced the impact. Ahead of Fani, a “record 1.2 million people in 24 hours” were evacuated to shelters before the cyclone made landfall in Odisha’s Puri.

According to an IPCC report it is likely that there will be fewer or the same number of tropical cyclones but more intense tropical cyclones (including tropical storms, hurricanes, and typhoons) in the future.

There were 14 cyclonic disturbances (depressions and cyclones) over the north Indian Ocean and adjoining land regions in 2018 against the long period average (LPA) of 12 disturbances per year, according to an Indian government report.

Of these, seven turned into tropical cyclones-against the annual average frequency of 4.5 cyclones per year in the north Indian Ocean region. The last such development of seven cyclones in a year occurred in 1985 (33 years back), it said. Private weather forecaster Skymet said it is very likely that in 2019, India may surpass the 2018 figure.

Meanwhile, the Arabian Sea too saw action. Cyclone Kyarr in October was one of the strongest cyclones on record in the Arabian Sea but did not make landfall, although associated high seas and storm surges had some coastal impacts.

Anjal Prakash, the coordinating lead author for the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC), said the WMO statement reaffirms what IPCC authors have been saying all along.

“The frequency and severity of intense cyclone events will be on the rise. The WMO has given us a little more information on the Indian monsoon,” Prakash told Mongabay-India. He also referenced a recent study that said altered rainfall patterns in many parts of the globe, including India, can be linked to the “rapid warming” of the Indo-Pacific Ocean.

Heatwave pummels India

As Europe reeled under two major heatwaves in late June and late July, claiming 1500 lives in France alone, record-setting high temperatures also hit health and well-being in Australia, India, and Japan.

In 2019 India stared at one of the longest heatwaves in three decades, which claimed over 200 lives, with experts warning that the spell will continue to impact people in poor urban neighbourhoods for weeks after the scorcher is over.

Madhavan Nair Rajeevan, who is the secretary of the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, told Mongabay-India that the present episode is one of the worst heatwave spells and stressed that heatwave spells are increasing over India. A number of record high temperatures were set in India, including 48 degrees Celsius at New Delhi Airport on June 10.

Extreme heat can lead to dangerous, even deadly, health consequences, including heat stress and heatstroke. From 1992 to 2015, heatwaves have resulted in 22,562 deaths across India.

Climate change potentially the greatest health threat of the 21st century

Climate change has hit human health, through the spread of vector-borne diseases and exposure to extreme weather events but most countries are not acting fully on their own plans to safeguard health from climate change impacts, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in Madrid in its ‘Health and Climate Change Survey Report’.

The report, which draws on data from 101 countries, provides the first global snapshot of progress on climate change and health.

While countries are increasingly prioritising climate change and health, with half of the countries surveyed having developed a national health and climate change strategy or plan, worryingly, only about 38 percent have finances in place to even partially implement their national strategy of plan, and fewer than 10 percent channelling resources to implement it completely.

Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, Team Leader, Climate Change and Health, WHO, said the organisation considers climate change “potentially the greatest health threat of the 21st century.”

“All countries are facing problems in financing health mitigation. Developing countries have a problem in accessing international finance,” he said.

A small variation in climatic factors has a huge impact on vector-borne diseases such as malaria, Zika, dengue, and chikungunya. Rainfall creates breeding habitats for vectors and temperature has a major role for mosquitos, virus development, and transmission.

Recent research has pointed to the increased risk of transmission of chikungunya in India linked to a steady spike in average temperatures in the south Asian nation. The susceptible regions for the disease may shift towards non-endemic areas in India due to population movement and the availability of suitable eco-climatic conditions for the mosquito vector.

The WMO notes that changes in climatic conditions since 1950 are making it easier for the Aedes mosquito species to transmit dengue virus, increasing the risk of the occurrence of disease. In parallel, the global incidence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades, and about half of the world population is now at risk of infection. In 2019, the world has experienced a large increase in dengue cases, compared with the same time period in 2018.

India experienced one of the worst heatwave spells in last several decades. Map Source: NASA.


(This story was first published on Mongabay India. Read the full story here. The story has been published on the theblink.in with due republishing rights)

Tribal way of life hits rock bottom even as mining hits new highs in Odisha

A child and his father use a polluted pond at Talakainsari panchayat in Keonjhar district. Photo by Manish Kumar.


  • A total of 64 mining projects has led to the diversion of 10451.39 hectares of forest land over 38 years in Keonjhar district – the highest loss of green cover in Odisha since 1980.
  • Rampant mining has been depriving locals of basic rights like access to clean air, water and greenery.
  • According to state government data, Keonjhar district reported a collection of Rs 20.19 billion of District Mineral Foundation funds in the last two years but could spend only 22.5 percent of the amount.

In the latest budget session of the Odisha Legislative State Assembly, State forest and environment minister Bikram Keshari Arukha hinted at the extent of mining the northern region of the state has undergone in the last few decades and its repercussion on the green cover.

In his statement before the House (a copy of which is with Mongabay-India), the minister said that in Keonjhar district, considered to be the mining hub of Odisha, a total of 64 mining projects have led to the diversion of 10451.39 hectares of forest land over 38 years. According to government data, this was the highest loss of green cover in any district in Odisha since 1980.

Keonjhar or Kendujhar is known for its tribal population, a majority of which relies on the traditional practice of using forest areas and produce for shelter and livelihood. According to the 2011 Census Report, Keonjhar is home to 45 percent of the Scheduled Tribes (ST) population from the district.

The district is also known as a mining hub due to massive high-quality deposits of minerals like iron ore and chromite.

Left high and dry by mining 

Rampant mining in the once densely forested areas of this district for the last few decades has left many local communities, most of them tribals, deprived of fundamental rights like access to clean air, water and greenery.

Talakainsari is a village panchayat, comprising several villages, in the Banspal block of the district. Frequent dumping of processed rocks – mineral-rich rocks leftover after mining, which are a source of air pollution as they make the area dusty — has escalated the woes of villagers.

Many households in Keonjhar villages are made up of clay. Photo by Manish Kumar.

“The dust from the dumping sites often engulfs our village and affects regular movement of people outside their homes. The roads leading to our village have been destroyed by trucks belonging to the mining companies,” said Sakuntala Dehury, a resident of Nitigotha village in the Talakainsari panchayat.

In fact, roads leading to many villages in the area have been badly damaged due to the continuous movement of mining trucks. These vehicles often make a beeline to the dumping yard in hundreds, jeopardising especially the movement of children, the elderly and those who have difficulty walking on the pothole-dotted roads. The conditions are worse during monsoons.

Safe drinking water is another challenge faced by locals. The area is dotted with orange-coloured ponds, effluents from mining and post-mining activities. Environmentalist S.N. Patro from Odisha said that the toxic orange indicates high levels of iron, chromite and other heavy metals, which are often mixed with the water bodies in mining areas.

A child and his father use a polluted pond at Talakainsari panchayat in Keonjhar district. Photo by Manish Kumar.

Studies have conclusively shown that the water in many of the mining areas in the district is not fit for consumption. A 2017 study evaluated the water quality of six streams at Gandhamardan Iron Mines at Sukati in the Keonjhar district. Based on 14 parameters, the study concluded that the water could be used for irrigation, but was not fit for domestic consumption. It also attributed the poor quality of water to anthropogenic activities like mining.

Another study by Lipsa Dash from Sambalpur University and Vijayeta Priyadarshi from the Government Women’s College, Keonjhar also points to the rampant cases of respiratory disorders, water-borne diseases, eye and joint problems among the population of Kumunda panchayat in the Banspal block of the district, which can be considered an impact of the mining.

Health hazard of polluted water

Left with no other option, the locals, however, continue to use water from these ponds for their daily needs. “Most of the hand-pumps of our village are defunct. The water tank earlier built by the government is also not working. The few solar-operated taps we had are also not usable. So we have no other alternative apart from using water from the ponds for drinking, bathing and washing utensils and clothes,” says Mohanty Dehuri, a 55-year-old resident of Uparkainsari, an official village listed by the district government as “mining- affected”.

Kalu Behera, a 35-year-old villager from Uparkainsari, says that the groundwater in the area, drawn by hand pumps, is often muddy red in colour and unfit for human consumption. Behera claims that farming has also been affected due to the quality of soil which has deteriorated over time, mostly due to mining activities nearby.

Driven to desperation by extreme water deprivation, many tribal communities living in remote areas consume water from open mountain streams or by digging pits in the soil to draw water.

A woman drinking water from the mountain stream at Bargarh. Photo by Manish Kumar.

This is a common practice in Bargarh, a tribal village in Banspal block. “Water-borne diseases like diarrhea and typhoid are common in our area due to the consumption of unsafe water. The tube wells either do not work or discharge muddy water. We have no option but to drink water from small, open mountain streams or by digging into the soil,” said Dengi Juang, a 60-year-old woman from the village.

Like Juang, many women from the village suffer, with no help from the government. Many are forced to fetch water from at least a kilometer away from the woods near the village.

Experts and non-government organisations (NGOs) working in the district affirm that mining has wreaked havoc on the natural resources of the region. “Earlier many blocks of Keonjhar had natural water streams. Many miners chose that spot and destroyed the natural flowing streams to the villages. Now, villagers using water from natural sources are either getting contaminated water or are being forced to get water from tankers,” said Dushkar Barik, secretary of the Keonjhar Integrated Rural Development and Training Institute (KIRDTI).

Children in Baragarh are used to drink water coming out from jungle canals and mountains. Photo by Manish Kumar

The district administration, however, claims that they are fighting hard to provide safe drinking water to the mining hit areas and also attempting to take miners on board to mitigate water pollution and air pollution.

Ashish Thackrey, Keonjhar District Collector, told Mongabay-India, “The main issue with the water quality in mining hit areas is the higher presence of iron in it. Through DMF and other state scheme funds, we are installing iron-filtration based water taps for the villagers living close to mining areas. Their maintenance and upkeep are also inspected regularly, and third party checking is also done to ensure their smooth functioning.”

The official said that two mega piped water supply projects worth Rs 1600 crore are now being undertaken which would ensure piped water to each household. He also said that in some areas due to higher iron content, tube wells discharge red coloured water but he hoped the with the drinking water projects such hurdles could be sorted out.

No trust in District Mineral Foundation funds      

Indian law mandates that miners contribute a portion of their profits to the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) to help people living in areas around mines. The DMF Trust is a district level body comprising the District Collector, MPs, MLAs and other local representatives, established as per the DMF rules of the government. It decides on the DMF fund utilisation and discusses the matters and policies on spending it in the district.

However, the usage of DMF funds in non-mining-affected areas has stirred up controversy in the state. For instance, there was a recent allocation of more than Rs. 300 crore (Rs. 3 billion) for the construction of a medical college in an urban area in the district. Dushkar Barik complained that the Trust does not have village level representations – many pressing concerns in the rural areas are not addressed and funds are diverted to non-mining urban areas, he alleged.

Meanwhile, according to villagers in the panchayat, many of the solar-operated taps that were installed with money from the DMF funds are either spewing muddy water or lying defunct due to government apathy.

A defunct water tank at Uperkainsari village in Keonjhar district. Photo by Manish Kumar.

report, published by the New Delhi-based think tank-Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in 2019 also hinted at the lacuna in delivery of services under the DMF Funds in mining-affected areas and urged the government to prioritise health, drinking water and nutrition for utilisation of the funds.

However, some claim that strict vigilance and prioritisation of available funds could solve many problems. Shankar Prasad Pani, a lawyer with the National Green Tribunal (NGT), said, “There is no dearth of money with the state government. The government needs to shift their focus on long term plans. Serving water through tankers is not a long term solution. While many funds which are specially meant for mining aggrieved areas are spent on non-mining areas and for opening medical colleges and paying the staff their salaries should be spent mostly on improving the lives of the aggrieved.”

He also added, “If strict vigilance of mining firms is undertaken since starting of operations of a new miner, pollutions and defiance of rules could be tackled. Many miners often flout norms which they need to adhere as per the agreements and laws under which they get a licence to operate. If strict actions are taken against the errant on regular intervals, scientific waste disposal and other pollution mitigating works would be taken by themselves.”

But, business is booming

Even as the tribal population bears the brunt of indiscriminate mining, the Odisha government claims that mining has contributed heavily to its revenues. In the Economic Survey of 2018-19, the government claims that the mining sector alone contributed 10.8 percent of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). According to the report, there was an increase in overall revenues from the sector in the last few years and a surge in employment due to jobs created by mining and related activities like ore processing and manufacture.

Mining dumps near Nitigotha village at Talakainsari panchayat. Photo by Manish Kumar.

written statement from the Central Government in the Lok Sabha on March 15, 2018, claimed that Odisha accounted for the highest collection of DMF funds in India, hinting at the magnitude of mining undertaken in the state compared to the national picture.

According to data submitted by the state government in the Odisha State Assembly on August 1, 2019, although Keonjhar district reported the maximum collection of Rs 2019.81 crore in the last two years, it could spend only 22.5 percent of the funds.

This, despite the fact mining-affected areas are desperately in need of the most basic amenities.

(This story was first published on Mongabay India. Read the full story here. The story has been published on the theblink.in with due republishing rights)



Protecting Jharkhand’s groves of faith



  • Jharkhand’s sacred groves, generally referred to as sarnas, are central to the tribal communities’ culture and heritage.
  • These patches of forests with sal trees and a cluster of other tree species are places of worship for the tribals in the state.
  • The state government’s scheme to conserve the sacred groves by erecting boundary walls around each sarna has divided the tribal people of the region. One section alleges that the scheme is a ploy to impose other religions on them and fear the inclusion of their tribal land in the government land bank.
  • Others however agree that the walls will protect the sarnas from being swallowed up by developmental projects, which they feel is a threat to tribal culture and heritage.

The mellow winter sun casts a soft glow on 13 sal (Shorea robusta) saplings encased in bamboo enclosures at Pandrasali, a small hamlet in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district.

Pradhan Birua kneels down near one of the bamboo structures and smiles. After all, the young plants are his babies. Back in 2018, he was determined to re-introduce the “sacred sal” in his village after lightning struck down the last tree. Birua, a member of the Ho tribe of Jharkhand, involved 15 children in his mission. Today, a long wait lies before him as the saplings slowly turn into hardy trees in the decades to come. But the changemaker has sown the seeds for the future.

The enclosure that Birua is tending to is within a sacred grove, called sarna, by the tribal communities in Jharkhand, which has a long history of adivasi (tribal people) struggle.

Pradhan Birua shows off one of the sal saplings enclosed in a bamboo structure in Pandrasali. Photo by Deepanwita Gita Niyogi.

These patches of forests with sal and a cluster of other trees such as mahua, neem and banyan among others, are places of worship for the tribal people in the state. Sal is a must in these groves because the indigenous (tribal) communities believe that Singh Bonga, the supreme deity, resides in the sal tree. Felling of trees, harming animals and plucking leaves are usually forbidden in these sacred spaces.

Back in the courtyard of his house, Birua’s face lights up as he recalls his adventures in reintroducing the sal trees inside the sacred grove at Pandrasali.

“The state government is trying to protect sarnas (sacred groves) by constructing boundary walls, but what about planting trees?” he questioned, referring to the gherabandi scheme (encirclement in Hindi) of the Jharkhand welfare department.

Gherabandi is a scheme to protect and conserve sarnas by creating boundary walls around them. It is carried out by the welfare department after the gram sabha’s approval.

“But without the sal, sarnas hold no significance for us,” stressed Birua. The government must understand this, he emphasised.

Inside the sacred grove at Pandrasali, entwined, lifeless branches of the dead sal trees lie on the ground.

Birua and his young army planted the saplings at a distance away from the spot where the old trees once stood. The apprehension is that the place where the old trees existed is a lightning-prone area, and hence, the precaution.

The children worked hard to ensure the saplings survived the monsoon showers. They helped in making the enclosures to fend off cattle and goats. Watering the saplings is also a challenge as the nearest river is about a kilometre away. Still, the champions zealously guard the saplings.

And even as a lone man is trying to re-introduce sal trees inside a grove, the state government is living up to its promise of constructing boundary walls around sarnas.

At the Pandrasali sarna, where Pradhan Birua is busy at work, the wall is ready to be plastered with cement.

Boundary wall work is on at a sarna sthal in west Singhbhum. Photo by Deepanwita Gita Niyogi.

Construction work is also going on in a few other villages in Ho-tribe dominated West Singhbhum district.

In the district’s Thai village, Dashrath Lohar is busy mixing cement and wiping perspiration from his face. On approaching, he informs that work has been going on since the past three weeks under the gherabandi scheme.

But opinion is divided among the communities over the state government’s purported real motive, with a section of the tribal community alleging that the government is forcing them to follow other religions under the garb of the scheme. They also fear the inclusion of tribal lands in the government’s land bank.

Durgawati Oreya, a social worker based in Jharkhand’s Khunti district said sarnas should not be made to look like structures of other religions.

“We like to worship our deity, the Singh Bonga, in the open, who resides in the sal. But I feel tribals are being compelled to follow other religions while we are demanding the adivasi religious code,” she explains.

But she also agrees that boundary walls may prevent encroachment in future, amid apprehension of inclusion of tribal lands in the government land bank.

The fear of tribal lands being taken over gained momentum after the Jharkhand government tried to amend the Chhotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act in 2017 amidst widespread protest.

Even though the amendment bills were later withdrawn, the suspicion is still rife among tribal people over the government’s purported motive.

Khunti based social activist Durgawati Oreya. Photo by Deepanwita Gita Niyogi.

Sarnas mostly exist in community lands. In many areas of Khunti which has witnessed massive land acquisition, such lands have been included in the land bank surreptitiously. So, naturally many sarnas have vanished in the name of development and beautification,” points out Masih Guria, a student and social worker in Khunti.

An independent study by social activist Stan Swamy reveals that the state government has earmarked 12,408 acres of common land in Khunti’s Torpa block for inclusion in government land bank. Of this, 31.85 acres are sarna lands.

Do boundary walls offer protection?

In Khunti’s Dulua village, Sanika Munda defends the construction of the boundary wall. There have been numerous occasions when people have tried to unlawfully enter the sacred grove with alcohol bottles.

So, in 2016 the wall was constructed after the gram sabha’s approval. At present, the gate remains locked and is only opened on Sunday morning from 9 am to 12 pm (noon) for worship, he said.

Munda doesn’t doubt the state government’s motive of conservation of the sacred groves even though he has heard rumours about the identification of 16 acres of land for constructing a women’s college at a tribal worship place nearby.

Oreya is not convinced. “Many people are not aware of the inclusion of tribal lands in the land bank. After being displaced, they will realise their mistake. The walls are of no use as miscreants can enter the groves at night by jumping over. The welfare department is just wasting money.”

Chaibasa-based Ho language teacher Dobro Buriuli says every tribal village in Jharkhand has a sarna. But in Angardiha village in West Singhbhum’s Tantnagar block, no such place exists.

The entire village forest is considered sacred by the residents.

Buriuli fears that if the forest is converted into a reserved forest in future, then the sarna will vanish. Angardiha resident Shailendra Purty says, “We consider the forest as sarna. But we are afraid that it may become a reserved forest gradually. Generally, the forest department blames locals for deforestation and felling of trees. However, the forest has been with us for centuries.”

Despite apprehensions, walls have caught the fancy of tribals across many villages in West Singhbhum. Some residents of Bhaluburu village are eager to have a wall, but nothing has happened till now.

According to Purty, structures of other religions are well maintained. “So, our people are also thinking in the same way,” Purty said.

Pradhan Birua stands near the wall of the sarna. Photo by Deepanwita Gita Niyogi.

Maango Boipoi of Bara Koita village agrees. He said the gherabandi scheme has enhanced people’s faith in sarnas.

In Silpunji village, where there is no boundary wall, Bideshi Gope favours its immediate construction. “Women mostly urinate inside sarnas during the paddy harvest season as the place offers them protection from prying eyes,” Gope said.

In Meri Tola which falls under the Chaibasa Nagar Parishad, gherabandi has been carried out due to rising population and to prevent outsiders from encroaching upon sacred groves.

The sarna here belongs to the Oraon tribe. Unlike the cut-off tribal villages of West Singhbhum, Meri Tola resembles a bustling urban area. Citing the instance of Tambo and Meri Tola, Bagun Bodra, a friend of Buriuli, says that outsiders have encroached upon tribal lands in those villages which lie near towns and cities.

“Due to population explosion, many sarnas are getting dirty. So, we have agreed for boundary walls as a safeguard measure. Our priests (pahan) have appealed to gods to accept the gherabandi scheme,” Bodra says.

Buriuli points out that sarnas on the roadside will vanish once widening projects are approved.

“At that time if we resist, we will be labelled anti-development. Jharkhand was created for tribals,” he said. Today, Buriuli feels, tribal rituals and traditions are at risk due to development projects. The spiritual relationship of tribal people with forests and trees is deteriorating due to government callousness, he said.

Shadow of land acquisition

Fear of sarnas gradually vanishing is deep in areas where lands have been acquired by the state government for development projects.

Rahul Oraon, a resident of Kutte village in Nagri block of Ranchi, who heads the HEC Hatia Visthapith Parivaar Samiti, informs that all inhabitants of 12 villages around Kutte in Nagri and Namkum blocks were displaced when land was handed over to the Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC) in the 1960s. “Our sarnas have vanished. We should get them back or else tribals will forget their culture and embrace other religions,” he said.

Residents allege that in Kutte, the sarna is currently without a wall as HEC claims ownership over the plot of land.

The Kutte village sarna. Photo by Deepanwita Gita Niyogi.Protecting Jharkhand’s groves of faith

Same is the case with the Jagannathpur sarna under the Dhurwa police station area where funds were released, but HEC raised an objection to the boundary wall.

A local government official said, on conditions of anonymity, when the gherabandi work started in Jagannathpur after land inspection, HEC created problems. Now, work has stopped for almost six months.

In a letter dated in April 2019, HEC pointed out that the sarna land belongs to the company after the government acquired and transferred it.

A K Pandey, project director, Integrated Tribal Development Authority, said after the HEC raised an objection, work was stalled. “We will decide whether the boundary wall will be created after the assembly elections. The land deed records it as a sarna sthal. We will sort out the matter,” he adds.

Ajit Oraon, the vice-president of Raji Parha Sarna Prarthana Sabha, a Ranchi-based social organisation, says the land acquisition shadow has stopped the execution of the gherabandi scheme in a few places.

He points out it is natural for tribal people to feel insecure and cites the example of a sarna sthal, a sacred site, which is now inside the Birsa Munda airport. “Today, we have to seek permission from the airport authority for entering the sarna. After we request them, they open it for us,” he said.

An Oraon tribe sarna in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. Photo by Deepanwita Gita Niyogi.

Airport director Binod Sharma says that legally the Hinoo mouza sarna sthal lies in the operational area near the runway. But people are allowed to enter once a year during festivals. When the land was acquired by the government, the people were duly compensated, Sharma adds.

In a letter dated December 2019 to the airport authority, the Hinoo Sarna Samiti (that works for sarna and tribal culture conservation) has requested the authorities to provide access to people every Thursday from 8 to 12 in the morning.

Sarnas have also shrunk in size due to the expansion and development of railway colonies. One such example is the Kalyanpur sarna in Namkum block, which now measures about 5 decimals.

Before that, it was spread over 3 acres and 85 decimal of land. “We need space for conducting sarhul and karma puja. Many people dance on these occasions,” says Ajit Oraon. Sarhul is a three-day spring festival. Tribals sing and dance during sarhul.

Lily Kachhap, a section officer in the Ranchi district welfare department, said funds are allocated for boundary walls after gram sabhas (village councils) send proposals.

“Sometimes even MLAs and MPs recommend boundary walls. But we always check land plots carefully before proceeding, as walls cannot come up on controversial areas or in cases of disputes,” Kachhap said.

In 2016-17, the Ranchi welfare department spent Rs. 19.3 million (Rs. 1,93,15,565) on gherabandi. In 2017-18, Rs. 19.2 million (Rs. 1,92, 13, 621) was spent. In 2018-19, the amount stood at Rs. 55 million (Rs. 5,51,18,570), according to the department’s record.

Amid the contentious issues of land acquisition, displacement and vanishing of sarnas due to a number of factors, Jamshedpur-based non-profit Deshauli Foundation is creating natural boundaries through afforestation to protect groves.

Founder Sadhu Ho says that in East Singhbhum and West Singhbhum, some leaders are making the gherabandi scheme a political issue. In many villages, people are not favouring walls even after the approval of the gram sabha. Ho’s organisation, which started working in 2018, is collecting funds to plant saplings around the edges to demarcate sarnas. “Trees will not only beautify our groves but also help to recharge the groundwater level,” Sadhu Ho said.

It remains to be seen how far the efforts of Birua and Ho go in protecting sarnas, that are facing an existential threat in Jharkhand.


(This story was first published on Mongabay India. Read the full story here. The story has been published on the theblink.in with due republishing rights)

Odisha reports 1 road accident every second day due to potholes


Blink News Network

Bhubaneswar: Over speeding, not wearing of helmets and seat beats it seem are not the only cause of worry for the commuters who hit the roads to travel from one place to other. Data suggests that many precious lives are lost in the state due to the fault of the civic bodies and other agencies.

A recent data shared by the Union Road and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari hinted that Odisha loses a life every second day due to road accidents triggered by potholes. The minister shared the data recently before the Rajya Sabha relating to road accidents, injuries and deaths triggered by mishaps caused on account of potholes on roads.

According to the data furnished by Gadkari, in Odisha in the last two years 2017 and 2018 a total of 238 road accidents were reported due to potholes. The data also hinted that with this calculation around one road accident is reported on every two days due to presence of potholes on the roads.

The same written reply by the government claims that a total of 108 people lost their lives due to potholes. Potholes could be termed as the living example of sheer government negligence when the agencies involved in road quality either delay in road repair or show negligence in repairing them making the lives of commuters vulnerable to accidents.

The data furnished by the ministry claimed that the presence of potholes also injured a total of 195 persons in the last two years. These data clearly hint that the negligence from the part of commuters is not the only reason for road accidents.

Such accidents also included mishaps reported on all roads either city roads, rural roads or the National Highways. The Centre however claim that special importance had been given to ensure safety of passengers and quality of National Highways.

In his written reply before the Rajya Sabha Gadkari said, “National Highways are being designed, constructed and maintained as per Indian Roads Congress(IRC) codes/guidelines and Ministry’s specifications. Various safety measures are made as an integral part of the highway development projects depending upon the site requirement and availability of lands,”

He also added, “The work of development and maintenance of National Highways are carried out by executing agencies viz NHAI/NHIDCL/State PWDs. In the EPC document there is a provision that the contractor shall at all-time maintain the project highways in accordance with the provision of contract agreement in time bound manner,”



After cyclone Fani, women in a migrant fishing community start resilience fund

By-Sahana Ghosh
  • Women in a migrant fishing community in Odisha have created a resilience fund to shield themselves from disasters in the aftermath of cyclone Fani.
  • Parts along the Odisha coast are vulnerable to cyclones, erosion and sea-level rise.
  • Mapping resilience of women-led households and learning from their behaviour can provide insights to prepare better for the future.

The salty air in Penthakatha’s slum, a speck at the edge of the Bay of Bengal, stings mildly with the stench of dried fish. Streams of dirty brown water meander amid a mosaic of palm-leaf roofed huts, tents, and cemented structures, fronted by folk art. This squalid coastal slum, home to a migrant fishing community, is located in the heritage town of Puri along the Odisha coast spanning the bay.

The east Indian state of Odisha is home to 46 million people and is often referred to as the disaster capital of the country, for the deadly cocktail of floods, cyclones, and droughts that regularly ravages it.

One of the first states in India to formulate a comprehensive action plan to address climate change, the state with its 480 km coastline is prone to “climate-mediated cyclones and coastal erosion”. Penthakatha in Puri district sits in the Mahanadi delta that drains into the Bay of Bengal. Studies show most of the coastline (65 percent) is facing erosion. The scenario is likely to worsen by the end of 2050.

In May this year, a rarest of the rare summer cyclone, Fani, flattened Puri and neighbouring areas as it made landfall there. It was the first summer cyclone in 43 years to hit Odisha and one of the three to hit in the last 150 years.

Six months after the disaster, the Penthakatha slum thrums with restoration-related activities. Vehicles ferry bricks through narrow passages as construction goes on to rebuild property flattened by the storm.

Waves lash around boats and fishing gear pummeled by the cyclone. Children, who suffered in the days following Fani from a lack of food, play on the beach, oblivious to the incoming peril.

Penthakatha’s 45,000 residents are mostly migrant settlers from neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh lured by the deep-sea catch off the Odisha coast.

For residents of the Doni Nageswarao Baraf, one of the migrant colonies in Penthakatha in Puri, of immediate concern, is the upcoming post-monsoon “cyclone season.” Used to cyclones and evacuations, residents (particularly women) were, however, blindsided by Fani’s intensity.

“We thought it would be like cyclone Phailin (2013) or Hudhud (2014). But Fani took us by surprise in its ferocity. It was tough to see our children go hungry for days following the storm. It took time for us to get cooked food through relief efforts,” recalled 35-year-old Koda Uma, whose family of seven was scattered across cyclone shelters in the ensuing evacuation.

A mosaic of tents and cemented houses make up Pentakatha’s colonies. Photo by Sahana Ghosh.

“We did not know where all of my family members were. Our housing arrangements were destroyed. We lived in makeshift polythene sheets. Health issues such as skin infections emerged after the cyclone. Many had fevers. We had no cash to go and buy food and medicines later,” Koda Uma, told this visiting Mongabay-India correspondent.

Saving for a rainy day

But Koda Uma and 652 other women from neighbouring Penthakatha colonies refuse to be complacent.

They banded together to create a resilience fund. A go-to fund they can use to take care of small expenses and activities linked to pressing needs that follow immediately after disasters.

“We started talking as we regrouped after Fani. So as a start, all 653 of us belonging to 60 hamlets (slums) in Penthakatha contributed Rs. 200 from the Rs. 2000 we received as compensation from the state government after Fani,” explained 43-year-old Malle Narsamma.

Residents of severely-affected districts of Puri and parts of Khurda, including the Penthakatha fishing community, received 50 kg of rice, Rs. 2000, and polythene sheet from the Odisha government as mandated under the National Food Security Act.

Koda Uma explained that as word spread through the colonies of a common fund, more and more women came up to contribute.

“As of now, we have slightly over Rs. 1,30,000. Each month we will contribute Rs. 10 towards the fund to build it up,” Uma said.

42-year-old Gauri Satyawati, a construction worker and one of the 253 women from Doni Nageswarao Baraf, has pledged her share to ensure the resilience fund’s longevity, especially in the light of the alcoholism plaguing the migrant community.

“Most of us (women) work and we can manage to contribute Rs. 10 monthly. Initially, we didn’t pay heed to the cyclone warning thinking it won’t cause much damage, but as updates trickled in through social media, our children alerted us and we were forced to leave our huts. My husband was drunk when the evacuation was in progress,” she says with a laugh.

“There was no cash in hand. It was pure luck that we all survived,” Satyawati said.

The community fund has been banked safely, courtesy Varsha Mishra, a social worker who helped with the paperwork to facilitate the creation and banking process for the Telugu-speaking residents who have very limited or no connection to the Odiya-speaking community of the state.

“What worked in their favour is the fact they take care of the financial aspect of fishing. Their spouses are at sea for most of the day and when they come with the catch, it is the women who sort through and decide the marketing aspects of the catch,” Varsha Misra, a native Odiya speaker and chief functionary of Puri-based NGO Spandan, explained.

Spandan is working with SEEDS (Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society) to protect the lives and livelihoods of people exposed to disasters through local, sustainable solutions.

M. Narsamma, in brown saree, and K. Uma in pink, gather at the temple to discuss preparedness. Photo by Sahana Ghosh.

Mishra believes the resilience fund will also come in handy to bridge the gap between disaster and the time taken for relief to come. “As relief workers, we also were impacted by the cyclone and it took us five days to set up community kitchens. So if there is cash with the community then they can take action in that time it takes relief to come,” she said.

Mishra elaborated that Koda Uma and her peers were born and brought up in the Penthakatha slum. “Their parents and grandparents came here and settled at least over a century ago. Out of 12,000 households, 6000 have land rights in the form of pattas (record of rights). The community experiences language-based and caste-based discrimination from the mainstream society,” said Mishra.

Koda Uma and her peers requested Mishra to help bank the money by opening up an account. A self-help group was created with 10 women and the money deposited in a bank as a group representing the 653 women. They urged Mishra to be one among the 10 as she could help with the paperwork.

“This was also necessary because as a self-help group they can’t access the money through ATMs. They need to go to the bank branch and withdraw cash,” said Mishra.

“If the men collect money then they will end up spending the money on unnecessary things. Because we manage the household, we know where to add and where to subtract and maintain a balance. We can wear a low-cost saree and be happy, so a minimum contribution every month is possible. We can forego consuming curry for a day and donate Rs 10 to the fund every month. We can also use the money for other community needs,” asserted Malle Narsamma.

People-centric solutions for disaster management

Varsha Mishra added that disaster relief for the migrants is also delayed because of their relative isolation from the mainstream native Odiya speakers.

Saudamini Das, development and environmental economics expert with the Institute of Economic Growth said community resilience funds are absolutely essential for migrant communities, who are at the top of the vulnerability ladder.

“They are migrants, they stay separate from the mainstream population, their social contacts are their family members in Andhra, they have very limited or no connection with the local Odiya community and they enjoy no social security (help from neighbours, etc.) during a calamity,” Das said.

Boats and fishing gear destroyed by Fani lie along the beach beside the slum. Photo by Sahana Ghosh.

“Money is very important as they can buy stuff only if they have cash,” Das told Mongabay-India.

Das said, for example, Bangladeshi migrants in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district suffered the maximum loss during the 1999 Odisha super cyclone as they were an isolated community.

“Migrant communities, especially the women who manage household finances, have skillsets and capacities that can reduce the risk of disasters. They are not just beneficiaries. Disaster management is not about state policies but local and people-centric solutions such as a resilience fund,” Panda added.“So far disaster management has been looked at as a response system. But it goes beyond response and evacuation in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Especially, for migrant communities, who are considered outsiders and are difficult to integrate into the system. Our economic policies also need to back the marginalised in times of a disaster,” said Odisha-based environmental activist and researcher Ranjan Panda.

According to Garima Jain, co-author of the study ‘A Road to Longterm Recovery for Odisha‘, fishers in Penthkatha hadn’t started fishing even three weeks after the cyclone as there was no electricity for ice production.

“We noted that due to electricity not being restored, and diesel generators being expensive, they could not store their fish on ice. This was the primary reason for not resuming fishing activities,” Jain of Indian Institute for Human Settlements, told Mongabay-India referring to the study.

The analysis was conducted to assess the potential long-term implications of cyclone Fani and to direct attention towards the disaster-affected people apart from the business-as-usual short-term response, relief, and rehabilitation work.

Jain said it is a must that affected people, such as the women in the fishing community of Penthakatha, are consulted immediately and consistently for a long period so that their changing needs are met and they are supported to move forward on the road to long-term recovery.

“In the last several cyclones and other disasters, we have been able to save a lot of lives. But are the people satisfied and have they had a convenient stay in cyclone shelters? We now want to focus on sheltering with dignity and minimising inconvenience,” said Prabhat Ranjan Mahapatra of Odisha State Disaster Management Agency.

The state of cyclones

The 2018 World Disaster Report “Leaving no one behind” proposed five different reasons that affected people may not receive the assistance they need: they are out of sight, out of reach, out of the loop, out of money, and out of scope.

The bedrock of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, a non-binding agreement adopted by UN member states, is to ensure that no one is left behind, including migrant communities, indigenous people, women and the elderly.

Records show the state has been struck by 128 tropical cyclones over 200 years (1804 to 1999). Included in these was the supercyclone of October 28 to 30, 1999, which killed 10,000 people.

The subsequent setting up of the state’s disaster management authority, improvement in weather forecasting technology and disaster preparedness that followed were globally lauded. In 2013, before cyclone Phailin struck, the state had successfully evacuated millions of people averting a major disaster. Ahead of Fani in 2019, a “record 1.2 million people in 24 hours” were evacuated to shelters before the cyclone made landfall in Puri.

According to an IPCC report it is likely that there will be fewer or the same number of tropical cyclones but more intense tropical cyclones (including tropical storms, hurricanes, and typhoons) in the future.

During this correspondent’s visit to Penthakatha, the women were actively discussing the incoming Cyclone Bulbul which was brewing in the Bay of Bengal.

“We can tell when a storm is coming. The seawater that hits the beach turns muddy. There are other signs as well. If someone explains to us about their severity then we will be better prepared,” said Narsamma.

There were 14 cyclonic disturbances (depressions and cyclones) over the north Indian Ocean and adjoining land regions in 2018 against the long period average (LPA) of 12 disturbances per year, according to a government report.

Of these, seven turned into tropical cyclones-against the annual average frequency of 4.5 cyclones per year in the north Indian Ocean region. The last such development of seven cyclones in a year occurred in 1985 (33 years back), it said. Private weather forecaster Skymet said it is very likely that in 2019, India may surpass the 2018 figure.

Skymet said generally, Bay of Bengal witnesses a higher number of disturbances than the Arabian Sea and that too more in the post-monsoon season as compared to pre-monsoon. Meanwhile, the Arabian Sea sees more storms in the pre-monsoon season and slightly less in the post-monsoon season.

However, this year, there have been some exceptions with the Arabian Sea seeing two storms namely Vayu and Hikaa in the monsoon season. Meanwhile, two more storms came up in the post-monsoon season namely Kyarr and Maha. Pre-monsoon did not see any Cyclone in the Arabian Sea. The Bay of Bengal saw Pabuk at the beginning of the year, Fani in the pre-monsoon season, and Bulbul in the post-monsoon season.

In the context of projections and past experiences, Das said mapping resilience of women-led households makes sense.

“Learning from their behaviour can provide much insight to prepare better for the future. Women headed households proved to be more resilient during Cyclone Hudhud, their role during Fani needs to be explored,” she added.

The slum buzzes with construction activity after cyclone Fani. Photo by Sahana Ghosh.

(Sahana Ghosh visited Odisha as an inaugural Solutions Journalism Network ‘LEDE’ fellow. The fellowship is aimed at spreading solutions journalism around the globe.)

This story was first published on Mongabay India. Read the full story here-.

Thousands of trees destroyed at Talabira to pave way for mining


Blink News Service

Sambalpur: With the legal immunity from the Union government and the state government, the local administration in the Sambalpur district of Odisha is now on a spree to destroy the forest cover spread over more than 1000 hectares to pave way for mining activities at Talabira region.

A visit by this correspondent revealed that the local administration had cut thousands of trees and made deserts out of a forest land within days. Many patches of the land in the forest have lost greenery and filled with piles of wooden stocks put together while the brown top soil layer is conspicuously visible even from a distant. This naked layer screams at the fact that once upon a time they were covered with lush greenery.

“The felling of trees started from the second week of this month. Within a week thousands of trees were fell down while the villagers saw it in shock. Not only the forest areas and the trees are under threat but with the mining activities planned there, it is very likely that it will threaten the agriculture land and livelihood of the villagers living nearby,” said Hemant Kumar Rout, a villager from Khinda in the area.

He also said that many of the trees in the forest area which the government has started falling down were grown and taken care of by the villagers living along the periphery of the area where the government has planned to make a desert out of a forest and start extraction industries there.

1.30L trees under threat

Many villagers also claim that the government is also destroying trees grown on private land in the area. “We were surprised to know that they destroyed some long trees which stood for ages on our private land located juxtaposed to the mining site during their spree to cut trees. Due to lack of exact location site from the executing agencies we are facing the loss of our land revenues and resources,” a villager from Talabira said.

According to the letters the state government submitted to Union government for seeking environmental clearance in 2014 to pave way for the open cast mining in Talabira II and Talabira III, it has been said that the government planned to divert a total of 1038.187 hectares of revenue and DLC forest land under the Sambalpur and Jharsuguda Forest Divisions.

NLC and Adani to operate

The project is being given to the Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) India Ltd in Jharsuguda and Sambalpur districts. NLC later signed a mine development and operator contract with the Adani Group in 2018. The state government report to the centre claimed that in selected 1038.187 hectares of diverted land there are 1,30,721 trees. With the starting of destruction of trees all these 1.30 lakh trees have come under radar.

It has been anticipated that more than 40,000 trees have been cut down till now, however government admits cutting only 17,000 trees in the Sambalpur district. The government meanwhile also claims trees will also be transplanted to other areas.

According to the government Gram Sabha consent for the project was made on July 30, 2009. Many villagers claim that it was allegedly a fake consent to pave way for mining. A letter from the state government to the Centre relating to the same claimed that the consent of the Gram Sabha is with them for the project.

The letter read, “A letter from each of the concerned Gram Sabhas, indicating that all formalities / processes under the FRA have been carried out, and that they have given their consent to the proposed diversion and the compensatory and ameliorative measures if any, having understood the purposes and details of proposed diversion,”

The state government claimed that to compensate the loss of green cover compensatory afforestration drive in alternate land will be taken up. It said, “Under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, degraded forest land twice in extent i.e. 1692.0 ha has been identified in Bikramkhol PRF (1558.0 ha) and Amkhaman-Sagarpali RF (134.0 ha) under Lakhanpur Tahasil in Jharsuguda district in lieu of 845.561ha. of forest land proposed for diversion for this coal mining project in Jharsuguda district,”

Environments irked

In a media statement, noted environment crusader Prafulla Samanta said, “It is especially tragic since this verdant forest nurtured by marginalized forest communities is one of the last forests left in Sambalpur- Jharsuguda industrial belt, an area where climate change fueled temperatures tend to reach 48 degree Celsius in summer.”

Tribal rights and livelihood expert Y Giri Rao while commenting on the issue said, “It is going to be disastrous impact on ecology, livelihood of locals and also for wildlife. Odisha is a power surplus state. Why state government is so hurry? Proposal submitted before FAC mentions that more than 1.35 lakh trees would be felled. Out of total trees 69 percentage sak trees diameter is more than 60 cm,”

He also added, “It indicates health of forest. Further the report mentions that soil and regeneration health of forest area is good. The villagers have been protecting it since 80s. The village also got certificate from forest department for their contribution for conservation of forests,”

Now it is very likely that the green lungs of Sambalpur and Jharsuguda district will soon be converted into the pollution emanating epicenters in the area. The dust laden trucks moving into the area, increased air pollution levels, dilapidated roads in the area akin to what we seen in mining hit areas of Odisha like Joda in Keonjhar, Angul, Talcher will soon be a reality for Talabira II and Talabira III.

Mining booms state economy

Notwithstanding the suffering of the local people due to mining activities, government data suggest that mining had been an attractive source of income for the state government. As per the Economic Survey of Odisha for 2018-19 the mining activities alone contributed to 10.8 of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). The report also claims that there has been a surge in income from the mining sector hinting at the increased contributions of the same to the GSDP in Odisha.

The issue has failed to garner much response in the local media although it has started creating ripples in the national media and also making rounds onto the alternative media like the social media where environmentalists and forest rights supports are castigating the government for their decision to apparently murder the green cover of the area to pave way for mining.

Not only is the green cover under threat in the mining proposed site area. The dependency of the mining activities and power plant in the area will also add up to the burden on the nearby water bodies and also there are likely chances of pollution of the water bodies nearby if norms are flouted post production.

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