BALANGIR: Prospects of Lower Suktel project getting back on track brightened with the Balangir administration beginning eviction drive in Pardhiapalli village on Wednesday. More than 70 houses were demolished by the team. Those whose dwellings were razed got full instalment of the compensation assistance. Recently, an official notice was given to the villagers. The administration used public address system about the eviction drive.
In February, Chief Secretary Suresh Mohapatra, WODC chairman Asit Tripathy and 5T Secretary V K Pandian reviewed the project status and future course of action. The state government then sanctioned `106.47 crore towards ex gratia assistance.
The irrigation project has had a long history of resistance. After the first survey was conducted way back in 1979, it went into the backburner for about a decade only to be revived in the 1990s. Environment clearance was given to the project in 1998. In 2001, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik laid foundation stone for the project which went on a stop-start mode with protests from affected villagers.
The Lower Suktel project site is located around 20 km from Balangir town. The proposed dam will submerge about 30 villages, displacing over 14,000 people. Construction work of the project started in April 2013 only to be stopped in August after affected villagers under the banner of ‘Lower Suktel Budi Anchal Sangram Parishad’ staged protest outside Odisha Legislative Assembly demanding the project to be scrapped. Despite local opposition, work resumed in January the following year only to be halted again in July, 2018.
Initially, inhabitants of 14 affected villages received compensation amount as per the R&R Act, 2006. However, later they demanded compensation as per the amended Act of 2013. In face of resistance, the project has received support from a section of people under the aegis of Balangir Action Committee which is pressuring the government to construct the dam at the earliest.
The project will come up over Suktel river, a tributary of Tel which is a major right tributary of Mahanadi. It proposes to irrigate 31,830 hectares (ha) in Balangir and Sonepur districts and submerge 4,602 ha including 583 ha of forests. Besides, the project will supply 20 cusecs of drinking water to Balangir town.
Being implemented with Central loan assistance from Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP), the project’s original plan was `217.13 crore which was revised to `1041.09 crore due to the inordinate delay. Lower Suktel project includes construction of a 1,155 metre long and 30 metre high earthen dam with a spillway having length of 255 metre.
There are two main canals - one coming out of the right dyke with a length of 23.84 km while the other from the earthen dam is 10.76 km long. The left canal includes two distributaries of around 35 km long.
Sub-Collector Lambodhar Dharua, SDPO Toofan Bag and executive engineer Niranjan Rout as well as PD (Rehabilitation and Resettlement) Mahendra Mohapatra were present on the spot and started the eviction work through machines.