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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

For dam-rehabilitated villagers in Odisha, a three-decade fight for a name

Its residents were all rehabilitated here in 1988 after the Upper Kolab Dam in Odisha’s Koraput district, constructed in 1976 over the Kolab river, submerged their ancestral homes.

Written by Aishwarya Mohanty | Koraput |
Updated: September 26, 2021 4:36:27 am
Baikunthapur is yet to be added in land, revenue records.

A signboard at a narrow deviation from the Koraput-Kotpad road leads to a village of 500 people around two kilometers away.

Its residents were all rehabilitated here in 1988 after the Upper Kolab Dam in Odisha’s Koraput district, constructed in 1976 over the Kolab river, submerged their ancestral homes.

Its name changes depending on who you ask. It is Colony 6 in official records, Baikunthapur if you go by its residents, and Camp 6 in local parlance. The signboard bears out this confusion, carrying the last two names in English and Odia.

“When we moved here initially we were told that we were being moved to camps. Then eventually when we got official documents like our Aadhar cards, it said we lived in colonies. But we are still identified as residents of camps,” says resident Gangai Burudi.

This is a grievance one hears in multiple dam rehabilitation camps in the district — they never got an official name for decades.

In 2018, the residents of Colonies 5, 6 and 7 — three of the five villages without an official name — decided to act. Between April and May, they put up boards declaring ‘Santoshpur,’ ‘Baikunthapur’ and ‘Purshottampur’ at the entrance to these villages. These are also the names that now appear in some of their postal addresses. Baikunthapur and Santoshpur fall under Batasuna gram panchayat while Purushottampur falls under SB Nuagaan GP.

The names, however, are yet to be officially added in land and revenue records.

Back in 1988, each affected family was given 3 acres of land for constructing a house and farming, and Rs 14,000 as compensation. After 2000, these camps started getting basic facilities such as drinking water, electricity, schools and anganwadi centres.

But the lack of an official name still rankles.

“This keeps reminding us of being displaced from our own ancestral village where we grew up. It does not help us feel settled,” says Burudi.

Over 3,000 families from 57 villages were displaced by the Kolab Dam project. About 52 per cent of the affected people are Paraja tribes and 17 per cent are Dalits, according to a study by the South Orissa Voluntary Action, an NGO in Koraput.

Tehsildar Janardhan Dalai said: “Some of the villages have changed their names voluntarily but that is not legally acceptable. They are still registered as Colony 6,7 etc, as per revenue records. But these hamlets can approach us for changing their names. No such change is in process at the moment from our end,”.

In Camp 4A, with a population of 603, Kuma Muduli says residents have held consultations with block-level officers but to no avail. “We initiate the dialogue with one official and by the time the papers are to be processed a new official comes in and we are back to zero. Villagers also keep getting anxious that they would have to go through so many procedures all over again. But we are still at it and we would want to change the name of our village, not just ourselves but officially as well,” Muduli says.

Harihar Nayak (60) from Colony 7 says, “When you are uprooted and moved to another location, there are a lot of things in mind to begin with, a lot of basic facilities. But eventually one realises that we have been reduced to camps and colonies. A person anywhere in the world derives his or her identity from the place they come from. We come from a camp. Our Aadhaar says we live in colony number 7. It feels like we do not belong here.”

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