Outrage has given way to expectancy in West Singhbhum,Jharkhand,where people are now waiting for the benefits that will come to them from a multipurpose project on the Subarnarekha,a venture that is finally set to take off after 40 years of holdups and protests.
On June 15,a team of engineers will test the dams vital functions and,if all goes well,the inauguration is expected in July.
With a dam at Chandil and several other reservoirs,barrages and canals leading into Orissa and West Bengal,the project aims not only at irrigating the three states but also at providing locals with electricity ,with a hydro power project set up near Chandil,besides holding out the promise of jobs.
There is no point agitating. It does not help, said Gundra Munda,now 72,who was part of the agitations that began in 1972. Now,he says,I want a job for my son and am looking forward to four handpumps,three temples and a cement road.
Starting 1972,anti-displacement protesters had mobilised thousands into a series of dharnas,processions and hunger strikes. A group of over 10,000 tribals,many armed with bows and arrows,had demonstrated at the site,leading to police firing and four deaths on January 6,1979.
The land was acquired,construction started and the project went up to the stage of the dams sluices being shut to fill up the reservoir,but all this happened between a series of repeated holdups.
One obstacle was the need to divert 1,800 hectares of forest land. Once the Centre had come up with the Forest Conservation Act,1980,the diversion required the clearance of the Ministry of Environment and Forests,which came only last year.
The project found fresh life when the World Bank sanctioned $127mn as assistance,but it withdrew the funding in 1990 as the agitation continued. The government of undivided Bihar stopped work,leading to paralysis till 1998.
The project took off in 1998 thanks to a NABARD loan of Rs 118 crore,only to be halted for 13 more years by a fresh agitation,this time over alleged corruption. The CAG report of 1999 noted,The officers of the Subernarekha project diverted Rs 31.04 crore meant for development of the rehabilitation sites In the Chandil sector,395 houses under the Indira Awas Yojna,proposed to be built at a cost of Rs 65.70 lakh,were not allocated to the beneficiaries. Of these,393 houses,built at a cost of Rs 65.39 lakh,collapsed because of the use of substandard material and neglect… Project authorities spent Rs 74.31 lakh for school buildings which remained nonfunctional.
Last year,after a fresh plea from the Jharkhand government,the MoEF gave the project the clearance it was waiting for and it was incorporated under the Centres Accelerated Irrigation Development Project. The project cost of Rs 6,613 crore will be shared 90:10 between the state and the Centre. The total is Jharkhands estimate for how much it will cost this state alone; breakups for shares with the other two states,too,have been worked out,depending on how much either state gains from a given component.
We have received the Central fund, said Jharkhand principal secretary (water resources) S K Satapathy,who is supervising the project.
In fits and starts over the years,nearly 60 per cent of the work had been completed,some components progressing faster than others. The government now plans to set up an autonomous body to execute them.
Now armed with funds,authorities having travelling from one rehabilitation site to another to check if any of the displaced families still have any complaint. There is a sea change in the attitude of the people, Satapathy said,promising to meet every demand and turn the rehabilitation sites into model villages.