Justice at long last for the displaced of Hirakud and Sorada

The government plans to issue RoR for homestead and agricultural land to 1,051 people over September and October.

Published: 05th September 2023 12:12 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th September 2023 12:12 AM   |  A+A-

land acquisition

Image used for representational purposes.

The Odisha government’s resolution to provide land rights to people displaced due to two major water resources projects years ago is a welcome move. On Saturday, the government decided to hand over record of rights (RoR) to 1,749 families in Jharsuguda district displaced by the Hirakud Dam project. Land rights over 3,231 acres will be issued to the affected people in 19 villages, with the process starting in December.

With regards to the Sorada reservoir project, the state has already set in motion the settlement of land in favour of families in 17 villages of Ganjam district; the project left them virtually landless. The government plans to issue RoR for homestead and agricultural land to 1,051 people over September and October.

The two projects may be separated by geography and history but are bound by a common thread—decades of suffering, pain and loss of identity. Built on the Mahanadi river in Sambalpur district, Hirakud is one of India’s major multipurpose projects post-Independence. Its flood-control, irrigation and hydroelectricity generation capacity makes Hirakud the state’s lifeline. Yet, like most river-valley projects, its construction necessitated the submergence of vast tracts of land and, in turn, led to displacement.

Before it was formally inaugurated in 1957 by then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the project submerged over 1.80 lakh acres of agricultural, government and forest land. Over 111 villages (108 of them in Odisha) were fully submerged. Another 174 villages faced partial inundation. As successive governments dragged their feet, hundreds of oustees suffered acute impoverishment after being deprived of adequate compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement.

Hundreds of kilometers away in coastal Ganjam, the Sorada reservoir is an older story dating back to 1896. Though the Britishers’ original project plan changed, the lands of 17 villages that were earmarked for the initial project stayed in that category, denying land rights to the inhabitants of those villages for
127 years. The villagers could not even ‘own’ their land, which was subsequently handed over to the water resources department.

Now the department has relinquished 1,362 acres, which will be restored to the rightful owners. With the elections approaching, the move may be seen by many through a political lens. But the Naveen Patnaik government may have finally delivered the affected population from a historical injustice which has spanned generations.

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