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Report by Badal Tah, Rayagada: After the marathon palli sabhas in the Dangaria villages in the presence of the District Judge from Rayagada court, a historical judgement was rendered by the Supreme Court of India not to have mining in Niyamagiri Hill, abode of 112 villages of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts inhabited by Dangaria tribes, a Primarily Vulnerable Tribal Group, earlier known as Primitive Tribal Group(PTG).
This was during July 2014. After this the development work by Govt in the hills was at snail speed due various reasons. One of the reasons being disbelief and mistrust of the Dangarias towards Government which they thought was operating to the tune of Vedanta Alumina Linited situated at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district.
Just after one year of passage of the above process, on last Thursday an intense dialogue was held between the dist admn and Niyamagiri Surakshya Samiti(NSS) to take forward the development process in these tribal villages. The entire administration headed by Collector and SP was present in a non-descript tribal village named Gortha, around seventy five kms from the district headquarters, under Munikhol GP in Muniguda block. Many of the officers had to travel by jeep, motorbike, walking the rough muddy and stony road crisscrossing torrential streams in the undulated mountain for at least twelve kms. Though the dist admn arranged sound system, chairs, etc, those reached late due to the difficult terrain. The meeting started at about 12.30 PM with the local village resources like rope-woven cots and a mobile hand speaker. Though Gortha has only fifteen tribal households, tribal people, daliits and others from the adjacent villagers congregated for the purpose.
Last month the RWSS department has installed a drinking water system with gravity flow methodology. The sustainability is still a question mark as this correspondent has seen such systems installed by DKDA(Dangaria Kandha Development Agency) lying defunct in several Dangaria villages. The development deficit was crystal clear from the non-existence of infrastructures like roads, electricity, housing, schools, anganwadi centres, LI centres, etc. The intervention of agricultural deptt, horticulture deptt, forest deptt, watershed deptt, minor irrigation deptt, Panchayati Raj department, etc was zero. There is not a single completed Indira Awas House in this village though at the backside of the village there is a row of stone foundation which seems to be laid years back. Several old persons made beeline for old age pension. And believe it or not, this is the situation till to-day even after 67 years of independence.
After the Collector requested the gathering to talk about the issues, the village leader Sri Dadi Fusika talked about various problems of the village and requested the Collector to address those not at the instance of Vedanta Company. Sri Lada Sikaka, prominent leader of NSS told that Development of the Vedanta Company is the Destruction of the Dangarias. Development of the tribals is only possible if the company is out from the region. They need development like education, health, etc but not at the cost of the company. They do not need any road which will bring exploiters like CRPF, Company Contractors and people like them. “What was the Govt doing before the onslaught of the company ? Why is it so interested for a road now ? If the Govt has plea that we are dying of health reasons, why there are deaths in towns ? Why there are lots of deaths due to accidents in spite of very good roads in and around cities ? Is there a real intention of the Govt to do development works for us ?”, asked Lada to the district administration.
When septuagenarian Sri Jayaram Jena, a Sarvodayee and a Gandhian spoke about the need of a road and education leading awareness, a young Dangaria boy said,” You talk of education and awareness. I am the stark example of Govt’s apathy. I am a graduate and aspire to become a teacher so that I can teach in Kui tribal language and other languages like Odia, Hindi, English in multilingual approach and serve my brethren in Niyamagiri. I applied for SSA teacher and am ineligible in the eyes of Govt. The outsiders who come as teachers to our hills, do not know the language and can not interact with tiny tots. So either there is high drop or complete drop out. Similar is the health situation. For abortion, I took my wife to Muniguda Govt hospital but was directed to a private hospital in Bissam Cuttack. Not having enough money, I had to take help of local journos to get things done. What is the guarantee of a Doctor rendering service at our doorstep even if the road is constructed ? If a teacher or doctor is committed, road does not really matter.”
The adviser of NSS Sri Lingaraj Azad said that the members of NSS are not anti-development as branded by the delivery mechanism and corporate and read out fifteen demands which includes withdrawal of all false cases done in the name of members of NSS, closure of refinery plant of Vedanta as there is no mining around, facilitating education, health, drinking water and self employment in the villages, mother-tongue based education in Kui tribal language with appointment of kui tribal teachers and establishing residential schools, health centres in proper places, record of rights for land to all the inhabitants with NTFP based cottage industries having local employment, cessation of police atrocity in the name of combing, establishment of a society having its branches at different chowks of Niyamagiri hills to facilitate transaction of NTFPs, Construction of canals and chek-dams in all the streams for betterment of agriculture, establishing another GP having its headquarters at Goratha, promulgating a governance system in Niyamagiri in the line of Uttarakhand, Manipur and Nagaland(Sedule-VI), Closure of country liquor bhattis in Munikhol, Chatikona, K.Singhpur, Lanjigarh and Trilochanpur which are in the vicinity of Niyamagiri, action against the govt servants who take percentage(PC) in all development works done at Niyamagiri, immediate construction & completion of road from Munikhol village to Ambadhani village.
Responding to the demands of NSS, the Collector said that some of the demands could be met by the state Govt and some by the Central Govt. Demands which can be met immediately by the district administration will certainly be looked into on priority basis. “This is the first time ever a collector and all the top officers of the district admn has come to this village. Earlier activities of the district admn might not have been foolproof. But it high time that the people forget the past and look forward for an inclusive development with trust and confidence. This is only the beginning and several round of talks will follow. You are all invited to the grievance redressal meeting during the last Saturday of this month at Muniguda. There will be a complete session for the issues of Niyamagiri. Many govt servants do not come to these areas in the plea of prevalent extremism; but I am prepared for any consequences & even death while at your service. I am not only meant for installing hi-mast light cladded city people. If I can’t serve ultra poor like you, then my job as Collector is worthless. We have plans to recruit educated tribal youths of this area, establish tribal haats, etc. We must jointly plan together and implement. There could be minor lapses in the police force; but let’s not generalise that all the police force torture tribals. Bring the violence to my notice and we certainly respond”, said Sri Jagannath Mohanty, Collector, Rayagada.
“The effort of the Collector and the entire admn is certainly appreciable. It would have been more fruitful had the district administration had consultation with us before such an important meeting. However on a priority basis the district admn has to respond issues like employment to educated Dangaria youths, OAP, marketing of NTFPs, etc to gain confidence of the people. Other genuine issues can be taken up afterwards. Continuous dialogue followed up with action will pave for a good governance”, said octogenarian Gandhian and sarvodayee Dr.Ratan Das, who was present in the meeting specially invited by the district administration.