Administrative challenges and IDPs in Odisha: experience from Subernarekha irrigation project, India

Madhulika Sahoo, Global Education MagazineMadhulika Sahoo

Senior Research Fellow, Anthropological Survey of India, Nagpur and former Refugee studies graduate of University of East London

[email protected]


The morning was quite, birds were chirping on the trees

Sun was bright, stream water trying to break the paths to hose the dry roots

Women getting ready to go for the daily forest produce collections,

Men ready for the months harvests,

With the sound of bulldozer the birds stopped chirping

The roof, the walls, the windows of the mud houses got dismantled

The trees got uprooted, the streams got dried

The sobs of children, women & the old

Screams to leave the remains of the dead buried underneath

The wounds so painful, the scars so deep

The morning was quite, birds were chirping on the trees

There used to be a beautiful village here…

Budhikhamari village, Global Education Magazine


Abstract: The current article has tries to draw attention on the pros and cons in the resettlement and rehabilitation policy in India. The author, elucidating from her own experience working with internally displaced people, on irrigation project in Odisha, India has tried to speculate the flaws in the resettlement and rehabilitation implementation.

Key words: internally displace people, Subernarekha, resettlement and rehabilitation, Mayurbhanj, India, Refugees.


The pain of displacement is worst for the poor’s, who are forced to leave their belongings to pushed into the trap of poverty, indebtedness, landlessness, homelessness. The internally displaced people (IDP) population is touching the toll in the country. The sufferings of displaced people in Odisha are no different from the IDPs of SriLanka, Myanmar and Sudan.

I was not surprised to work with the Subernarekha Irrigation project in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, which was certainly an eye opening experience for me. Being a fresh graduate from the university, where half of my assignments went on searching for the ways and means the government actually deals with the displaced families in the post displacement situation.

In the present article, I have tried to narrate my own experience working with the water resource department, Government of Odisha in implementing the resettlement and rehabilitation policy in one of the major irrigation project in Odisha.

Subernarekha multipurpose irrigation project envisaged the construction of two dams, one at Chandeli across the Subarnarekha and the other across the Kharkai at Ichha near Chaibasa in Jharkhand, two barrages at Galudih across the Subarnarekha and the other across the Kharkai at Ganjia near Adityapur and a network of canals from these.

Started in 1982-83, the multipurpose project was planned for irrigation, hydropower generation and water supply2harnessing the water resources of river Subarnarekha for irrigation, flood control and municipal and industrial use (Government of Bihar, 1988).

The main beneficiaries of this inter-state project are the people of Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal3. The project which has horrified 109 submerging villages consisting of 9,044 population4 for the area of 8596 Ha on account of construction of 3 Command Area Reservoirs in Odisha and one reservoir in Jharkhand State5.

By the dawn of 2010 there were total 1532 displaced families waiting for the resettlement & rehabilitation, where more than half of the population were promised to be provided with resettlement assistance and rehabilitation livelihood trainings for self employment.

The counts begin with the number of farm and non-farm based livelihood trainings to each individual displaced families. The three months training programs ended without any appropriate market linkage, adequate monitoring, marketing strategies and financial support for the business.

However, a study on ‘impact of Subernarekha multipurpose project on three singhbhum villages’ was carried out by Upadhaya in the year 1999, the findings stated similar conditions as that of the villagers in Odisha. Not a single villager of Hurlung village was given any type of rehabilitation assistance to start business after the livelihood trainings. The resettlement has brought no development in the quality of life of the displaced families either in Odisha or in Bihar.

Many families find the compensation amount and the R & R assistance inadequate for reconstructing their lives6. However, it is quite universal at Odisha Government administrative setup appointing incompetent officers for the important tasks, especially where the reconstructions of people’s lives are involved.

The poor institutional capacity had literally affected the displaced families of availing resettlement & rehabilitation assistance in time. However, the 2006 Odisha R & R policy in the clause 207 allows “effective participation of the displaced communities in the process.” but there was no clear defined mechanism for ensuring such “effective participation” of the aggrieved people.

Also in clause 21 of the policy directs, for the assessment of policy implementation either by the government officers or some other agencies, this was least practice in reality it rather gives free hands for corruption to the officers8.

There were further flaws in the implementation of the policy, the clause 4(f) & (h) which emphasize on preparing comprehensive plan for policy awareness & dovetailing the resettlement and rehabilitation packages in resettlement habitats, was disregarded and completely missing in the resettlement colonies.

I came across some displaced families who were having no clue about the R & R policy, packages and the Government official orders. In addition to it, the policy objectives 3(b)(i) sought recognizing voices of displaced communities (emphasizing need of the indigenous communities and vulnerable section) which appears like an imaginary objective put up in words on a piece of policy draft.

The clause 7 in the policy which talks about the R & R plans has to be prepared by the district collector with due consultation with the displaced communities. This was barely in practice as many of the plans were prepared without prior consultation and approval from the displaced families.

One of the instance I came across was of providing rehabilitation livelihood training on beauty parlor to the tribal women which were least appreciated by the young tribal females, they were never consulted earlier. Although the training on candle making, soap & phenyl and tailoring was well adopted by the young displaced females but all in vain there was no further financial support or employment for them, whereas in clause 7(x) in the policy it clearly says

Subject to the details regarding provision of employment as enunciated elsewhere in the Policy the project authorities shall give preference in the matter of employment, both direct and indirect as well as through contractors employed by them, for execution, operation and maintenance of the project…’.

The policy also talks (in clause 12(a)) about the special benefits to displaced indigenous families and respect to socio-cultural norms while developing the resettlement plan. But in practice many of the resettlement colonies and houses are designed by the engineering department, which is another nodal agency for project construction and resettlement. The R & R department and the engineering department have never been seen working jointly in the planning and policy implementation.

The entire confusion begins with the lack of coordination and planning by both the departments and other line departments. The policy empower the Project director R & R entire responsibility at the district level who shall be the Chief Coordinating Officer between all the line departments in the matter of R & R (clause 18 (b)(i)).

This give space to misuse the power for not attending the field offices regularly which makes the R & R implementation process all the more weaker and tedious. Moreover the frequent transfer of the authorities makes the villagers less acquainted with the grievance redressal mechanism for resolving the project and village level issues. Nonetheless the desperateness of landless among the tribals leads many to bribe the Government officers to speed up the R & R process.

In many resettlement sites though the thatched huts are replaced by the cemented houses but the habitation lacks the basic civic amenities, signifying half hearted policy implementation by the Government and thus leading many villagers to disastrous situation, riots and project resistance. One such example is the present project implementing resistance in Lower Suktel irrigation project Odisha9.

The R & R policy which has been criticized in many occasions by the academicians, development practitioners and the policy makers. Has remain unsuccessful at its implementation level, the reason being the implementing agencies often misinterpret the resettlement with rehabilitation which is a one-time relocation with or without other economic support. However, rehabilitation is a long process of the DP/PAPs re-establishing their livelihood.

For resettlement to lead to rehabilitation, it has first to prevent impoverishment10. I conclude this article with George Denis Patrick Carlin (an American social critic) thoughts where he says:

‘Government don’t want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. That is against their interests. They want obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept it’11.




3 Upadhaya, V. 1999 ‘impact of subernarekha multipurpose on three singhbhum villages’ Social change Vol. 29 no. 3 & 4.

4Mishra, S.K., 2002 ‘Development, Displacement and Rehabilitation of tribal people: A case study of Orissa

5Information taken from the plan proposed by the Government of Odisha.

6 Upadhaya, V. 1999 ‘impact of subernarekha multipurpose on three singhbhum villages’ Social change Vol. 29 no. 3 & 4.

10Fernandes, W., Velath, P., Kumar, M., Dey, I., Roohi, S., Das, S K., 2007 ‘The draft National Rehabilitation policy (2006) and the Communal violence bill (2005) A critique of rehabilitation policy of the Government of India, Mahabiran Calcutta research group, Calcatta.

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