Lower Suktel project: Compensation is the major hurdle now

Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bolangir, Apr 19:

The proposed Lower Suktel project at Magurbeda in Odisha’s Bolangir district which has been plagued by protests, delays in construction work is now confronting another major hurdle with regard to the compensation package for the displaced people.

Though the Lower Suktel Budi Anchal Sangram Parishad and Lower Suktel Sangram Samiti are still opposing the proposed project, the intensity of protest has drastically come down.suktel project

But that does not make the situation any easier for the government which has to take a call on whether it is going to compensate the displaced villagers as per the Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) Act-2013 or not.

As such the cost of the project has gone up by nearly five times- from the initial estimate of Rs 217 crore to Rs 1047 crore now and any further delay would push its cost even further.

A section of the local people who strongly favour the construction of the dam believe that unless the state government takes a clear stand on the nature and quantum of compensation for the displaced and affected people, the work can not proceed.

While the resistance to the project has shed its virulence, the demands of the displaced villagers to provide compensation as per the R&R Act-2013 have intensified in the area.The people of Paradhiapalli and Koendapalli villages had recently staged a road blockade demanding compensation as per the Act. Meanwhile, a team of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), during its recent visit to the project area, had heard the grievances of the villagers.

However, the state government’s unclear stand  on compensation as per the R&R Act, 2013 has aggravated the situation.

It may be mentioned that the work for the project began on September 27, 2012. However, the work was stalled due to vehement protest by the villagers.

The anti-Suktel organizations withdrew their protest after the expiry of the deadline of the project on March 31, 2013.

However, all of a sudden, the district administration and the construction agency resumed the project work on April 8, 2013 with police support. This triggered massive protests and agitators, led by the Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti, Zilla Adivasi Sangha and other organizations, demonstrated at the work site along with the people from the nearby villages including women.

Unnerved, the administration ordered a crackdown and  several villagers and  activists were injured in a lathicharge by the police on April 29.After this incident,  barring a few token protests,  there has been no major confrontation between the protesters and the police at the project site.However, resentment over non-disbursal of compensation is growing and that could lead to escalation of tension resulting in further delay.

The Budi Anchal Sangram Parishad has been demanding that instead of a dam, small barrages could be constructed and displacement of the people of the affected villages could be averted. The state government, so far, has not paid any heed to the demand and it looks like it’s  hellbent on the construction of the dam.

But if it means business at all, the state government should not waste any more time by dithering on the all-important issue of compensation, say pro-dam activists.

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