Inaction against polluting mines, corrupt officials, malnutrition cost BJD the Sukinda seat

The development versus health debate drove anti-incumbency sentiments among the area’s tribals this year

The residents of mineral-rich Sukinda town in Odisha’s Jajpur district voted out the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) for failing to address the health and social problems caused by administration-abetted illegal mining and malnutrition. 

The defeat to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by 9,577 votes came after years of the government reaping benefits of the ‘one rupee rice’ scheme, Mission Shakti and other rural development works.

Sukinda valley has 97 per cent of the country’s chromite ore deposits and is one of the largest open cast chromite ore mines in the world. The region’s hilly areas, home to the Juang tribe, were seen as a litmus test for the incumbent government’s policies for tribal welfare and checking malnourishment deaths. But most of the voters cast their votes against BJD, said Sarat Pradhani of Nagada village in Sukinda block. 

Sitting MLA and Rural Development Minister Pritiranjan Gharai’s hope of a third term remained unfulfilled despite some development work done by his party in Nagada and nearby areas, including the construction of a 12 kilometre road and launching a bus service to connect Nagada with nearby town Kaliapani as well as providing drinking water pipelines to the tribals. But this election season, the choice between development and health played an important role. 

In 2016, 22 kids from the area’s Juang tribe died of malnutrition within three months. This was besides the several health concerns plaguing the local people because of unsupervised chromite mining with connivance of BJD leaders. These corrupt practices contributed to the party’s defeat, said Bharat Pradhani from Nagada village.

Residues from high-density explosives used in the region’s illegal stone quarries and mines contaminate the water the locals drink. There has been an increase in the rate of kidney ailments in the community, residents shared. 

Within a month, around 15 people died of kidney diseases caused by drinking contaminated water from underground reservoirs as well as ponds and other waterbodies nearby, according to a petition in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) by Mantu Das, a social worker from Sanabagsahi village. 

It was also alleged that the groundwater in the Kaliapani area was excessively toxic, with elevated levels of iron, chromite, coliform and faecal coliform. Saruabil village in Sukinda and Kamarda village in the coastal state’s Baleshwar district are reported to have the highest iron content in the groundwater in the country, according to the Central Pollution Control Board. In 2023, NGT constituted a four-member committee to probe these allegations. 

Tarunkanta Jena, a retired school teacher of Kaliapani, said:

Large-scale illegal mining poses a serious danger to the villagers of Kaliapani, Puranapani and other villages in Sukinda. Without doing any developmental work in our villages, many companies have been mining chromite. 

“We staged many protests against illegal chromite mining activities in our villages. But the authorities did not pay any heed to our pleas. For this reason, we cast our votes against BJD in the recently concluded state assembly and Lok Sabha seat,” he added.

On January 2, 2006, 14 tribal agitators were gunned down by armed police personnel at Kalinganagar, when they were protesting against the construction of a boundary wall by a Tata Group company, said Jagajiban Das, a trade union leader of Sukinda. “Now Kalinganagar has as many as 14 steel companies. But many locals who lost their land to industrialisation are deprived of getting a job.”

The Blacksmith Institute of the United States included Sukinda Valley in its list of the 10 most polluted places in the world in 2008, Das recalled. “Many mines continue to operate without any environmental management. Untreated water is discharged by the mines into the river, because of which a large number of tribals voted against BJD.”

BJD leader Gharai won in 2014 and 2019 general elections from Sukinda assembly constituency, considered a party stronghold. In fact, in the 2019 elections, he defeated this year’s winning BJP candidate Pradeep Bal Samanta by a margin of 16,730 votes. But this year, the residents voted for change.

The large-scale air, water and noise pollution created by these units in the region is evident even to a layperson and needs no expert opinion, said Satya Rout, a retired school teacher of Sukinda. “The brutal destruction of the hills by stone quarry mafias and mining companies was a poll issue in these areas, for which BJD lost both Sukinda assembly seat and Jajpur Lok Sabha seat.”

Another burning issue was the local authorities did not grant land pattas to many tribals and forest dwellers under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 in the areas, turning them against BJD, said Rabindra Pradhani, a tribal of Nagada.

“I have been running from pillar to post to get land pattas for the last six years. But my pleas fell on deaf ears, for which I voted against the BJD,” said Niranjan Pradhani, 54, from Nagada village.

Source link

Most Popular

To Top