Saturday, 08 February 2014 | MANAS JENA | in Bhubaneswar

Land, water, forest, mineral and air are natural gifts and every human being has natural right over these resources for a dignified life and livelihood but there are communities who have very limited access to these resources due to their economic status and many of them also face discrimination in access because of their social identity.

In Odisha, a large chunk of communities like fisher folk, forest produce collectors, forest workers, tribals, primitive tribal groups and Dalits still depend on natural resources for livelihood in spite of mining, industrialisation and social sector development. The land, forest and water have been their sources of livelihood. It is estimated that they constitute about 60 per cent of State’s total workforce and contribute about one fifth of the State’s GSDP. Mostly, these communities are enlisted as SCs and STs who are more dependent on natural resources.

The SCs and STs constitute 85 per cent of poor population of the south and north Odisha. Both the Central and the State Governments have been trying to strengthen the livelihood of the SCs and STs through programmes like KBK, Biju KBK, Biju Kandhamal O Gajapati Yojana, Gopabandhu Gramina Yojana, BGRF, SCSP and TSP, but how far these programmes are integrating the communities with resources in terms of ensuring their access to land for housing and agriculture, forest, water and other resource utilisation for livelihood?

The recent trend in the State shows that there has been growing tendency in inviting private capital to extract the resources through inequitable lease system. The capital intensive private enterprises have increasing access with capacity to invest, use technology and credit to unlimited exploitation of resources. On the other hand, the State has been making very less effort in terms of State investment for utilisation of natural resources by local people who depend on it for their livelihood. The communities depending on natural resource base are slowly sifting to occupations of wage labour. It is affecting local production and food security. The trend leads to distress migration to metropolis, urban slums and upcoming industrials corridors etc. The marginalised communities of coasts, forest and rural areas are landed in a sub-human condition in unhealthy locations even without basic minimum facilities. Their open access to common property resources has come to an end. Post 90s experienced a growing international concern for vulnerable groups, in the context of poverty, climate change and ecosystem. The State economic policy does not reflect its concern for marginalised communities losing their resource base livelihood in spite of sporadic movements by communities against the resource marginalisation.  Much of the private investment, armed with technology and international capital, in the State have played a process of resource alienation of local communities. The State Government has been providing a number of welfare schemes to poor but not making any attempt to ensure access of marginalised groups to land, water, forest and other forms resources by making legal provisions to ensure ownership rights over its utilisation and management.

Historically it has been identity based discrimination which denied owning resources and the post-Independence phase witnessed a large State apathy in formulating policy on democratising resources along with lack of political and administrative will in implementation  of constitutional mandate and now it is burdened with resource privatisation in an economic globalization phase.

Water is a free gift of nature. This is so important for human life that it cannot be compromised. But it is unfortunate that still there are communities who face discrimination while accessing drinking water in village. They have to invest to access water for domestic and agriculture based livelihood. The drinking water sources created out of State treasury are under the hegemonic control of dominant castes in the villages even today. In a majority of villages in rural area, access to safe drinking water is a struggle for Dalit women at tube wells, ponds, wells and water bodies. 89 per cent of the rural household depend on tube wells and wells for safe drinking water, whereas 8 per cent of total household have no access to safe drinking water and rest 3per cent have access to tap water in spite of schemes like Accelerated Rural Water Supply (ARWSS) and Swajaladhara schemes for providing safe drinking water in rural areas. There are areas where ground water is getting polluted due to arsenic, fluoride, iron, salinity and pollutant contents. These areas need very special attention of the Government to ensure safe drinking water to the people.

As per Government sources, about 10.84 lakh people depend upon fisheries for their livelihood.  The State has a coast line of 480km where 3.33 lakh families are depending on marine fisheries and mangrove forest. The export value of marine products to foreign countries was worth Rs 428 crore in 2009. The blackish water lagoon Chilika is spreading over an area of 79,000 hectares. But it is unfortunate that there are communities inhabiting in Chilika who are not being allowed to do fishing. It  is  told by the people there that  40 Dalit families of village Mahisaberhampur in Krushnaprasad block of Puri district in Chilika lake have no fishing right over there. In many parts of the State, the old issues of hegemonic control over resources based on identity and denying of sharing of resources with others in the same locality still continues unabated. Now the new challenges of huge private investment are coming in. The identity politics in these areas, in the absence of democratic political process and inclusive resource policy are being used by vested interest groups to divide the people. The poor and politically unorganised communities in many places are fighting among themselves to get access to the deployable resources but not unitedly fighting for people’s access to resources. The water bodies in rural villages given on lease for fishing where Dalit communities always struggle to have a fair share over it.  The most important challenge faced by the fishing communities now is the process of privatization of water and the fishing job.

The mining and industries are not only extracting huge water and minerals but also polluting water sources, land and air by emission. In the mining and industrial areas of the State like Talcher, Jharsuguda, Koida, Sukinda, Joda and Badbil, water scarcity is a major issue.  The ground water level has gone down along with surface water pollution affecting domestic consumption and agriculture.

The State policy is more industry tilted in providing water to industries while at the same time, the State invests very less to provide irrigation facilities to farmers struggling with drought. The irrigation intensity in the State was only 31per cent which is very less than the national average of 44 per cent. The canal systems, minor irrigation and lift irrigation has almost become defunct. The sponge iron factories requiring huge water are being mindlessly encouraged by the State in the name of industrialization. All the major rivers Mahanadi, Brahmani, Baitarani, Rusikulya and Budhabalang are being linked to major mineral based industries of the State. The reservoirs, Hirakud, Rengali, upper Indrabati and upper Colab are being used for industries.  Not only thousands of fishing community but also farmers and other communities living on the river bank and delta are in danger.

The 58,136 sqkm forest resources have been a major source of livelihood for Adivasi, especially PTG and other forest dwellers. The minor forest produce collection, its processing and marketing has not been improved in the State. The plight of Kendu leaf collectors and bamboo workers need a very special attention as Odisha is the third largest producer of Kendu leaf next to MP and Chhattisgarh. The destruction of forest for mining, industry, dams and infrastructure project has seriously affected the people with decreasing forest coverage in the State.

Considering the reality of large presence of workers in unorganised sector and their dependency on natural resource base livelihood, the State economic policy should put the people in centre focusing their livelihood.

The production process should be labour intensive. The resource utilisation should involve more people. There should be value addition through upgrading the skill of rural workers engaged in forest, fishing, livestock and allied activities. There should be capital investment to upgrade skill of workers, utilization and marketing but not at the cost of employment of local people and its environment and eco-system.

(The writer is rights activist who can be reached at email —[email protected])

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