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Global Warming: Rehabilitation still eludes Satabhaya villagers in Odisha
Satabhaya, means seven brothers. Once upon a time they were seven flourishing villages on the sea coast. But now five villages, Gobindpur, Mohanpur, Chintamanipur, Badagahiramatha and Kharikula, are no more in physical existence. The Bay of Bengal has engulfed them all, one by one.

And now the two remaining villages out of seven Satabhaya and Kanhupur are waiting apprehensively for their turn to make the transition from geography to history, when like their other brethren they will simply reduce to a vague distant point in that endless sea.

Climate change is taking its toll. But, the state government is yet to wake up and get into action. All that it has done till date is only making promises and not getting into action. And the latest in the series is a pre-election promise to resettle them before June this year has ended up as 'just another poll promise' that expires on the day of the poll.

Satabhaya, a village and also a Gram Panchayat in the same name is located on the sea front in Kendrapada district of Odisha, is prone to sea erosion. Sea erosion has reduced Satabhaya from an original 350 square kms in the settlement records of 1930s to less than 140 square kilometers in around three decades. All land has been lost to the sea.

Along with the land, the villages, schools, drinking water infrastructures, their protector Goddess Maa Panhu Barahi along with her temple, agricultural land, orchards, play grounds also have vanished. This ordeal for the seven villages started with the 1971 Cyclone when three villages were washed away.

After eleven years another two villagers were erased from geography in a similar cyclone. Only Satabhaya and Kanhupur were left behind. 1999's super cyclone took the toll of their last defence against the sea, the sand dunes. Water entered these remaining villages. But, from that time onward sea has been menacingly moving towards the villages time and again, threatening their very existence on terrafirma.

While climate change, sea level rise and sea erosion have wrought havoc amongst the villagers, the government has done precious little for these victims. These villagers have been promised of resettlement since decades, 42 years to be precise, but nothing has fructified yet.

In the year 1991 the state government headed by late Biju Patnaik (father of present Chief Minister and legendary leader of Odisha who have a special place in the hearts of people of this areas because of the saline embankment constructed during his regime) declared a special package of one crore rupees for the resettlement of these villagers. This was the second initiative. Prior to this another initiative was taken that did not take off. Sunei Rupei forest area was identified by the district administration as the resettlement area.

Accordingly homestead land was developed and pond was also dug. But then the Forest and Environment department opposed this on the ground of environmental clearance. It put a full stop to the rehabilitation plan. While the State government and the Forest and Environment Department can go to any extent to get environmental clearance for the POSCOs and Vedantas, but, they did next to nothing to get the environmental clearance as the villagers are no match to the industrial bosses on many front.

Then came the turn of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, son of Biju Patnaik, to promise and not to carry it forward. On 9th February 2004 Naveen Patnaik laid the foundation stone for Biju Nagar (in the name of his father) at Magarkanda. But, this initiative of Navin babu ended up with the foundation stone itself.

The Chief Minister remembered the victims of Satabhaya once again in 2008. On 12th August he declared a package for the families of Satabhaya. Each family was to get 10 decimal of homestead land and 2 acres of cultivable land. This declaration by the Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik once again ended up as a declaration only.

On 8th June 2011 the then District Collector of Kendrapada and local MLA Alekh Kumar Jena laid the foundation for Satabhaya Resettlement and Rehabilitation Yojana at Bagapatia. Those who were present there to clap were assured that by 2012 June (on set of monsoon) the rehabilitation work will be over. It is three years now and resettlement is still eluding the people of Satabhaya.

Peeved at the indifferent attitude of the government, the villagers of Satabhaya along with the women and children resorted to a fast onto death. This continued from 27th January to 2nd February 2014. The ensuing elections and the sensitivity of the Satabhaya issue for the ruling party swung the district as well as the state administration into action. The villagers on hunger strike were given firm commitment on 2nd February for rehabilitation by the district administration.

The district collector visited Satabhaya area for a fresh stock taking. On 7th February a high level meeting in Odisha secretariat, headed by the Revenue and Disaster Management Secretary Tara Dutt, decided that by 18th of February all the 5781 families of Satabhaya will be given land pattas and on 23rd of the same month the Revenue & DM Secretary himself will visit the place.

Revenue and Disaster Management Secretary did visit Satabhaya on 23rd of February. He also did a stock taking of the rehabilitation work at Bagapatia village where 571 families of Satabhaya are to be settled. Taradutt assured the people, "the state government will rehabilitate all the erosion-hit families of Satabhaya with a population of 3,243 on 133 acre in Bagapatia village, 15 km from sea. Each family will get 10 decimal to build house. The houses will be built under Mo Kudia Yojana."

"The authorities recently built a saline embankment at Bagapatia to protect the proposed rehabilitation colony from ingress of tidal water from a nearby river. The government will build a school, a temple, a community centre, gram panchayat office and a cyclone centre at Bagapatia within a month," he assured the erosion victims.

As declared by the state level meeting Land Pattas were to be handed over by 18th of February. But, during the visit of Taradutt no patta was handed over. They were only provided with trace maps of the promised 10 decimal of land. Their lands were demarcated with red flags. They were promised that by June of this year the erosion victims would have shifted to their new address at Bagapatia. The erosion victims also were provided with polythenes so that they can erect temporary shelter to oversee the construction of promised 'Mo Kudia'.

Now June is over.June is the most important month for the erosion victims as the monsoon and the turbulence in the sea starts a new cycle of living in constant fear. June is over, but the promised land pattas and the houses are nowhere in sight. Immediately after Taradutt's visit, model code of conduct was effective. So no progress was made.

But now a fresh reading of the situation has brought to the fore that the rehabilitation of the Satabhaya victims in Bagapatia at best could be a distant possibility. The promise of resettling them before June was only a election promise, that is to be kept alive for the next elections. Leave aside proving houses or reselling them, the administration is not even in a position to provide the minimal land patta to Satabhaya victims.

Land at Bagapatia has not been settled. The settlement process has to be initiated with notification and acceptance of objection. This itself will take one year at the minimum.

On the other hand there is does not have requisite government land at Bagapatia to resettle the Satabhaya victims. Altogether in different records the total government land available is only 84.5 acres that is scattered hither and thither. So to make up for 133 acres, that is the land needed to resettle people, it has to acquire at least 48.5 acres of private land. So far the government has been able to acquire only 14 odd acres.

The owners of the rest of the land are not willing to provide land at the abysmally low rates of Rs 29,000 per acres offered by the government. Even two cases have been files by the land owners in the Odisha High Court. On the contrary the district administration has been claiming that the land has been acquired. In this tussle between the land owners of Bagaatia and the Administration the areas demarcated with redflags and shown to the Satabhaya victims has been reclaimed by the original land owners. They have stated cultivation there and also have dug ponds. With no land, not even a land title, the district administration also is not able to provide the Mo Kudia funds for the construction of houses.

Junes come and Junes go. But the Satabhaya victims plight only gets worse with every passing year. Mostly on every fourth year the promises are repeated by the state to not to be fulfilled. On one side the sea is marching forward menacingly to erase their villages from geography, but, hey also do not have any address to run to. 

571 is not a piece of land on this huge landmass to go, settle down and say this is my land. Can the State be more indifferent and inefficient, than this, where even in 40+ years it could not find a few acres of land to give these hapless hopeless people an address?

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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