In Odisha, 'Achhe Din' Promise Washes Childhoods Away in the Name of Development

While mighty dams are the poster child of development, the underbelly of such developments is a demolished school and locked health centres, with no compensation in sight.

Nuapada: “India is a youthful nation. Today’s youngsters are becoming job creators”, Prime Minister Modi tweeted to the country from his handle earlier last week. True, a major section of the Indian population does fall in the youth age bracket (15-34 years) – 34.8% to be more accurate. Are youngsters becoming job creators though? Tough to tell with the current estimates and with the prime minister’s arbitrary definition of job-creation.

Hrudananda may not qualify as ‘youth’ yet, but he is a child who the country sees as a propeller of the young and growing India. But a conversation with Hrudananda and his father, who live in a village near the Indra river in Odisha’s Nuapada district, does not seem to indicate so. Their village, Kalimati, was one of the 30 villages which was going to be displaced by the Lower Indra Irrigation Project, affecting 6,181 persons. But after about 20 years, almost double the number of people have been affected and children like Hrudananda are growing up without an education. “They demolished our school,” says Hrudananda, who now learns whatever little he can from his father and expresses his desire to go to school.

According to community correspondent Saytanarayan Banchhor, all development-related activity in Kalimati stopped in 2008, seven years into the construction of the dam. By ‘development’, Satyanarayan refers to schools, health centres and public infrastructure projects like village roads. But viewing development differently, the government not only uprooted the lives of those who lived along the Indra but also failed to rehabilitate them, in favour of a dam that would irrigate approximately 30,000 hectares of land.

For a dam that will irrigate 30,000 hectares of land, it is submerging 4,766 hectares, which makes the submergence to irrigation ratio a poor 1:6. Even India’s most controversial dam, the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada, has a ratio of about 1:50, according to The Sardar Sarovar Dam Project: Selected Projects.

Moreover, the Lower Indra Irrigation Project’s website says that the project was completed in 2012 but reports suggest that the government’s new deadline is 2018. The Odisha government has been in charge of its management and implementation. Targeting the state government led by Naveen Patnaik, in the run-up to state elections in Odisha, PM Modi promised completion of pending projects and mentioned that the Lower Indra project missed its deadline by a long shot. But does Modi’s promise of completing projects and bringing development to Odisha mean that those displaced and deprived of fundamental rights like education will be able to start over?

If the Biju Janta Dal government in Odisha did nothing to rehabilitate those displaced, the BJP-led governments at the centre and in various states don’t have a great track record in ensuring rehabilitation either and neither does the former Congress-led government. The Sardar Sarovar Project, which is yet to rehabilitate 40,000 families, is a glaring example of this; the government did not think twice about submerging homes and schools without compensation even then.

A study on project-induced displacement and resettlement found that most resettled people were worse-off after resettlement and interruption of education was one of the top ten risks. In the Indian context, this is a clear violation of the Right to Education Act of 2009; and the cost at which achhe din is being promised to the country.

Video by Video Volunteers’ Community Correspondent Satyanarayan Banchhor.

Alankrita Anand is a member of the Video Volunteers Editorial Team. Video Volunteers provides disadvantaged communities with storytelling and data gathering skills.