As the Odisha Mining Corporation diverts water resources for its iron ore mines, local communities face a drought-like situation.
The Khandadhar waterfall in the Tensa Barsuan forests of Odisha is home to legends, river mouths and extensive biodiversity. It is also home to the Paudi Bhuiyan community. Dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, the waterfall is the community’s lifeline. But over the last 10-15 years, the waterfall has turned into a mere trickle, leaving the fields parched and forcing people to invest in borewells they can barely afford, or to migrate, leaving behind traditional forms of living and livelihoods.
The waterfall and the canal it feeds, are drying up not only because of natural causes, but also because the region has been identified as an iron-ore “jackpot” by mining giants. As a result, its natural resources are being diverted and depleted at the expense of the local community’s survival. The Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC), a public sector undertaking, has installed five water pumps at the source of the waterfall, diverting most of the water to its mines and residential colonies. As a result, the residents of Bandhaberna village, who live downstream, struggle to make ends meet in the absence of water for irrigation.
Initially, the community had no idea why the water level in the canal was depleting, but ever since they discovered the reason why in 2007, the struggle to reclaim their resources has been on. This is the same region which showed years of resistance against Korean mining company, POSCO, marking one of the biggest movements against exploitative mining practices. The Adivasi communities in the region have also demandedthat no mining activity should be allowed within a 25-kilometre radius of the Khandadhar falls.
Way back in 2007, the residents of Bandhaberna sent a number of applications to the district administration when they realised why there was no water for them. In 2016, Community Correspondent Bideshini Patel also joined the people in writing to the then District Collector Bhupinder Singh Punia, and also sent the application to the Mining Inspector and the Governor. However, the district administration did not respond. Most recently, Patel also reached out to the new District Collector, Surendra Kumar Meena, who was transferred to Sundergarh from Mayurbhanj in April this year. Meena said that he did not have any information about the issue, but said that he would look into the matter.
Under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act 2010, all state governments are expected to collect funds under the District Mineral Foundations (DMF), which are supposed to be utilised for the welfare of those affected by mining operations in various districts. These welfare areas include access to water and sanitation, education and healthcare, amongst other facilities. Odisha has collected the highest amount, Rs 3,548 crore, under the DMFs but has utilised only 7.24 per cent of the funds in two years.
The Bandhaberna community and the surrounding villages have neither received any benefits from the DMF money, nor any response to their many applications to the district authorities.
In the last five years, OMC has contributed Rs 7,107 crore to the treasuries of the central and state governments and has been lauded for having an excellent sales turnover. But for the Paudi Bhuiyan community, they have not reaped any benefits or even received their due from the OMC. They have only lost – their resources, their means of livelihood and their homes in the Tensa Barsuan forests.
You can support the community’s demand to restore their local water resources or find an alternative by calling the District Collector of Sundergarh, Surendra Kumar Meena, at +91-8280066858 and inform him of the problems the OMC’s water diversion is causing.
Video by Community Correspondent Bideshini Patel
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team
This story has been co-published with Newslaundry.