Mining and Human under-Development: Brewing Social Conflict in Orissa!

Ranjan K Panda

Where Coal is gold, children’s education can be dumped! This has been followed by the mining-savvy Orissa government in a small Matulu Camp village-as the name suggests, a resettled habitation, in Rengali block of Sambalpur district in Orissa. There was a ‘school’, up to class 5th in this village just three years ago. But, the school is now reminding a World War-II concentration camp, where about 100 children of ten classes are being forced inside a dingy 20/15 ft room community centre building. An apathetic administration and absent infrastructure has disrupted the fundamental rights of universal education. The circumstances being such, fate of hundreds of children are sealed as education eludes them. Mockingly children term their ‘school’ as ‘ten in one’.

The people of Matulu Camp have a rare opportunity of being displaced twice in less than half a century. They were first displaced in the mid 1950s when they were forced to vacate their land, house and properties because of the Hirakud reservoir. The One hundred and forty four families who were just about settling in with new livelihood options were subjected to fresh involuntary resettlement. The recent displacement was forced by the Hindalco Aluminum Company, which was leased out their village land as the company’s captive coal mine. Though unlike the previous displacement, when their entire village was submerged by the Hirakud reservoir, they have been ‘rehabilitated’ within the village territory. But still their plight is even more pathetic than any forceful displacements. Rehabilitation and Resettlement of these poor people is completely missing in the area.

Habitation and Education have always played hide and seek with these villagers. The waste dump from the coal mine grew hill size and started spreading till the school. Villagers fearing of mishaps have stopped sending children to the schools. After several frantic pleading and agitations afterwards for a ‘safe’ and convenient school building to government officials as well as local political representative, six months ago during a meeting of Rehabilitation Advisory Committee (RAC), a prospect for school building was seen.

Displaced people are always taken for a ride as the villagers strongly believe. Even after more than six months have passed, there is no sign of construction of a school building. Like everything else, except humiliation, deprivation and neglect, the school building too has become a mirage for the villagers. Adding insults to the injuries, the old school building with five separate class rooms is now occupied by the security guards of the mining company. “They (security guards) have made it (the school building) their barrack”, complains local activist Ashok Dash. The building was occupied by the security guards and the children out of school. A building which should have housed plenty of pen pencil holding tender kids now have gun totting muscled security personnel. The administrations conveniently choose the easier way out. They ‘relocated’ the school to the community hall which was being used as the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) School. The district collector Vishal Gagan said, as the land on which the school is situated had been acquired by Hindalco and complaints of dust pollution, the district administration decided to shift the school.

“Sometimes we plan to send our kids to the other nearest primary school, which is two kilometers away in Khinda”, says a 25 years mother Janhavi. But they fear sending their children to Khinda. “Heavy, speeding and reckless Volvo trucks ply through that road, day and night. Life is far more precious than education” adds a concerned Janhavi.

The school building that is now occupied by the mining company security guards, is a new one built under the ‘Sarva Shiksha Aviyan (SSA)’. The makeshift ‘school’ has no drinking water facility in the near vicinity. “The company takes profit at our cost” alleges Satyanarayan Rohidas who is yet to receive any compensation. “My brothers missed out on education because we were forced to vacate for the Hirakud dam’s reservoir and our children are now no less unfortunate even at a time when the government is making tall claims of giving education for all” says illiterate Satyanarayan. “We are not educated and hence could not fight for a humane compensation. We may loose the fight this time too and like us our children will be missing education too” he rues.

“These are leading to a dangerous trend,” cautions Ashok. Some parents have made the absence of proper schooling environment as a prelude to engage their kids in domestic works. Poor they are already; forceful displacement and absence of rehabilitation have forced them into severe marginalization.

This is not the single case where lopsided development has snatched the human dignity not only in Orissa but all over India. It is apparent that loss of education, life and livelihood leads to unrest. The increasing social conflict in India could not be deliberately ignored by the government and private companies anymore. A robust India should be inclusive not exclusive in its growth. While ‘right to life’ is violated consciously/unconsciously by the mandarins of development, who cares about ‘right to education’-a fundamental right under the Constitution of India?

Author Note
Ranjan K Panda is a senior researcher and development practitioner, currently heading Manav Adhikar Seva Samiti (MASS), Sambalpur, Orissa